Monday, November 29, 2010

Is the Atonement Literal or Symbolic?


When dealing with the Atonement I don't think we can separate the symbolic from the literal, since we have no idea how it all happened. I think when we try to divorce the "symbolic" from the "literal", we end up killing what we are analyzing - just like trying to separate the spirit from the body to understand each better. Sure, we might end up understanding each part better in isolation, but we've destroyed the unique combination that made it worth studying in the first place. Isolating the symbolic or the literal - and accepting only one of them - causes the Atonement to cease to be "real" or "living" for me. 

I choose to believe that the Atonement (all of it - not just the suffering part) is both highly symbolic and highly literal - and I'm not sure at all where to draw those lines. Honestly, I prefer to not draw them in permanent marker; pencil works just fine - and no recorded lines work even better. At least, for me that works better, since I have no problem admitting I really have no clue - and that allows me to accept whatever works best for me at any given time.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

For Thanksgiving: A Post about Enduring Things for which I Am Thankful

Thanksgiving was two days ago, and, as I thought about my New Years Resolution post for this weekend (introducing more extensively the resolution for December - to "endure more things charitably"), I decided to post a list of things I have "endured" that have taught me more about charity than I would have understood without them.  Here are some of those things:

1) Being raised in a house with a mother and five sisters

I had a father and two brothers, also - but growing up amid that much estrogen taught me patience and love in a very specific way.  (*grin*)  In the immortal words of Forest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that." 

2) Having a wife and four daughters

I have two sons, also - but see my explanation for #1 above. 

3) Being different from my earliest childhood memories

I realized at the age of seven, while reading the Book of Mormon on my own for the first time, that I understood it differently in some ways than others around me - including my parents, friends and ward leaders.  I realized at the age of about eleven or twelve, while reading Jesus, the Christ (by James E. Talmage) for the first time, that I wasn't alone in many of my views - but there was no way to share that epiphany with any of my friends.  They already thought I was stuck-up simply because I talked differently than they did - but understanding it was ok to be different (even in some "fundamental, religious" ways) has been a great blessing in my life as I interact with others who are different, as well. 

4) Repeating math I had learned already for 3 1/2 years in junior and senior high school

I am thankful in hindsight that I had to endure almost four years of repitition and boredom in my math classes, since essentially teaching my 9th Grade math class in the absence of an effective adult teacher led directly to my discovery that I love teaching.  If I had attended a junior and senior high school that knew what to do with me, I probably would have ended up being a mathematician of some kind - and I honestly can say I probably would have missed many of the highlights of my life and careers. 

5) Poverty on more than once occasion

I have been out of work more than once in my life, and, in one case in particular, it occurred as a result of taking a moral stance and being fired for it.  That led to the longest period of unemployment in my life and perhaps my greatest personal trial of faith - but it also led to two distinct careers that have been incredibly rewarding for me, albeit not financially. 

More importantly, in relation to this post about charity, it also taught me in no uncertain terms to appreciate and not condemn or judge others who are struggling - that there are good, righteous, intelligent, hard working people who are not blessed materially continually - that one's current financial condition is not an automatic indicator of personal worth - that the "Prosperity Gospel" might be valid at the communal level, but it isn't valid at the personal level.  I knew that righteousness does not equate to wealth (or even comfort) from watching my father growing up - but my own poverty blunted my own prideful tendencies somewhat and taught me that anyone can struggle in ways that seem incomprehensible to them prior to those struggles. 

6) My marriage to my "split-apart"

This is one instance where I refer to the definition of "endure" in my post last weekend - "to exist or continue".  It has been my great privilege for the past 24 years (next month) to have been able to exist and continue as half of a unique whole.  Mama has taught me charity in too many ways to list here - and she has been the single greatest blessing in a greatly blessed life. 

7) Blogging

Finally, I am thankful for having been able to "endure" through the schedule I set for myself when I first decided to keep a personal blog - and especially when I decided to post daily, except on Sundays.  I also am thankful for the time I have spent getting to know others in group blogs over the past four-plus years.  It has been time-consuming, but it also has given me glimpses into souls I would not have known otherwise - and that has taught me charity, as well, in a very real and important way.  It has been enlightening, especially, to work with those who are struggling with their faith and testimonies - and I will be thankful eternally for that experience. 

So, to all who read my thoughts here - occasionally or regularly:

Thank you for enduring with me!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Power of Honoring Ritual


1) I love performing baptisms in the temple. It is, without question, my favorite activity there - even though I thoroughly enjoy all the ordinances. I particularly am grateful that the Church practically has demanded that those who perform the baptisms slow down and do so at a "normal" pace.

A few years ago, I decided to treat each and every baptism as a separate and distinct ordinance, as it should be considered and truly is. I know the baptismal prayer without having to think about it, so before each baptism I look at the name, memorize it (with a few exceptions - some of the names . . .), bow my head, close my eyes and voice the prayer in the exact same manner as I did when I baptized my own children. I speak clearly and pronounce each word with care. Then I open my eyes, look at the proxy and lower him or her into the water the same way I would if I were baptizing a new convert or one of my children. It has been an amazing experience.

2) In my current calling, I receive e-mails occasionally from the Stake Executive Secretary asking me to indicate approval of a stake calling that needs to be issued. Whenever I see such an e-mail, I pause, close my eyes and say a very quick, simple prayer that I will be able to know if there is any reason why the calling should not be extended as proposed. I don't know if I will ever receive a "Don't approve this" answer, but just taking time to honor the "ritual" has been a neat experience.

3) Whenever I am at the podium announcing a calling and asking if there are any who oppose that calling, I always take a moment and scan the congregation (clearly and distinctly) to see if anyone is raising their hand. Then I turn and look at those sitting on the stand. I feel confident those on the stand won't be opposing the calling(s), but the pure ritual should provide them the honor of being included in the request to show disapproval if they so desire.

I believe that ritual loses its power when it is not accorded respect and serious consideration - when it becomes nothing more than vain repetition in practical performance. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Did Jesus Literally Suffer for Our Sins?


In essence, I see Jesus as the great and final "scapegoat". If you know about that ancient custom (think about the parable of separating the sheep from the goats), the Jews would take a goat, symbolically load it down with the sins of the people then let it loose in the wilderness - thus symbolizing God's forgiveness of His people.

I see Jesus as the "human" representation of that ancient ritual - the one chosen by God to symbolically carry the sins of the people, be rejected and "cast away" by that people and, thus, come to represent His forgiveness of them. The "addition" in the case of Jesus was the carrying of ALL their suffering - not just the guilt for their sins, but also the pain caused by their sicknesses and simple mistakes. Thus, He became not just their temporary sin scapegoat but their permanent "Savior" and "Redeemer".

Personally, I think it was important to have Jesus be crucified by the Romans, because that was the ultimate expression of their oppression - their great communal pain and suffering and guilt. Honestly, I don't try to understand what he actually suffered in the Garden. I tried that once in the MTC, and I essentially came to understand that it wasn't necessary to understand it to accept it. In effect, I was allowed to see that it's not the actual pain or mechanics that is important; it's the symbolism "embodied" that is critical.


It's one of the aspects of Mormonism that is the most "glorious" to me, but it's also one of the things that I believe is generalized for a reason. Sometimes, the symbolic needs to have a literal alternative to help those who think and see literally, and sometime the literal needs to have a symbolic interpretation to help those who think and see symbolically. I believe this is the ultimate example, so I accept both ways of looking at it as "legitimate" on an individual level - and the literal option as the one that should be taught as the general, default presentation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Just Wait Until You See Him After You Get Married . . .


Couples who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced than those who don’t. There must be some powerful reason for that, since every “objective” or “logical” evaluation would seem to say that the results would be reversed - that two people should live together and “test it out” to see if they really are compatible - that those who do should have a much lower divorce rate. It’s fascinating that it doesn’t work out that way.

I see a great "deception" in living together, since really all it does is lengthen the “courtship” - the time when you are putting on your best face to try to impress the other person. You get married thinking you really know the person, but all you know is the person you simply have been dating more intimately. When you get married, your guard gets let down and you realize the person you lived with isn’t the person to whom you now are married - and it can be crushing. You feel betrayed and deceived - whereas those who have not lived together are much more understanding of the change. Often, those who don’t live together are even told something like, “Just wait until you see him/her after you get married . . .”

There also is the aspect of trust and commitment: one couple is firmly committed and focused on the positive, while the other is almost looking for reasons not to get married. Even if marriage occurs, it’s hard to change that basic mindset and perspective. It’s hard to look for faults and reasons to avoid marriage for an extended period of time, then stop doing so once the wedding occurs.

Most people don't stop and think about that - the habituation of skepticism and critical evaluation (which is a topic for discussion with many more issues than just cohabitation and marriage).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

My Most Challenging New Year's Resolution Thus Far - To Define "Endure" Properly

At the beginning of the year, when I wrote my New Year's Resolution post, I realized that this month's resolution would difficult to define properly - at least, to define in such a way that I believed would be both practical and acceptable to me personally.  This was because I do NOT want to pray for or request additional things to "endure" in my life, since, as one of my favorite scriptures says in Matthew 6:34:


Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
 

I have enough things to "endure" that I don't need more - and, yet, 1 Corinthians 13:7 does say that charity "endureth all things". 

For this initial post, I want to share just one thing that hit me as I contemplated this dilemma:

1) When I looked at the various definitions of "endure", one in particular caught my eye - particularly as it relates to the idea of charity enduring all things.  It was, quite simply:

to continue to exist or last 


What hit me in this definition is that there is not hint of negativity or "struggle" or suffering inherent in or necessary to continuing to exist or last.  In other words, "endureth all things" does not have to be about increased pain or heavier burdens.  It can be nothing more than the idea expresed in Pslams 119:112:

I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end.


Translated into the context of my New Year's Resolution, it would read:

I have inclined mine heart to act in the ways outlined in the previous descriptions of charity alway (to internalize charity so that it will become a "natural" part of my very character), even unto the end.
 

In other words, perhaps the idea of charity enduring all things is more of a qualitative, longitudinal statement than it is a quantitative measurement.  Perhaps it relates more to the statment that "God is love" - and the idea that we should strive to emulate and become like Him - than to the idea that the amount of our suffering is more important than how we deal with whatever we are given to endure.  Perhaps enduring ALL things inlcudes blessings and things for which we naturally are grateful - since they also can change us and take us away from charity, if we allow them to do so.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the idea that there is an element of conscious choice in this type of character development - that I can choose to "incline my heart" to react in a charitable way.

I have come to believe that "enduring more things" (as an initial step toward enduring all things) is a perfect concluding resolution for this year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Liberal Is Just a Conservative with More Friends


I heard a brilliant description of political extremism in college, and it has stuck with me all these years later:

Both extremes say the same thing; they just word it differently. The "Conservative" says, "I understand Absolute Truth. Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong." The "Liberal" says, "There is no Absolute Truth. Anyone who disagrees with me is wrong." The only real difference is how narrowly they draw their circles. 

Meanwhile, those of us who live somewhere in the middle end up getting rejected by both extremes, since we share various views with both. The extremes, however, rarely recognize and acknowledge shared ground; rather, they focus on differences - ridiculing all who don't agree completely with everything they believe.

I don't know how many times I've had someone who is more liberal than I call me a conservative - or how often someone who is more conservative than I call me a liberal. Occasionally, it's really frustrating; generally, it just is amusing.
"At the extremes, a liberal is just a conservative with more friends."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What I Would Change about the LDS Church


The 3-hour block is vilified by some members, and it is the one thing that many members say they would change about the Church, but it often is that same group who blasts the Church for not educating its members enough on historical and doctrinal issues. So, on one hand, the Church needs to do much more to explain and teach difficult doctrine, but, on the other hand, the Church needs to reduce the amount of time members spend in meetings being taught history and doctrine. Can you see why I end up scratching my head in frustration at times?

I would rather tackle the instruction during those three hours and make it as good as it can be first, then evaluate if the actual amount of time can be reduced. Does anyone know what the Brethren have identified as the greatest "failure" of the three hour block? It is that the block was consolidated to allow families to spend more time on the Sabbath and throughout the week together as a family - but most members haven't used it to accomplish that objective. Rather, they have maintained their previous practices on Sunday and just added other activities during the week to replace the church meetings they used to attend.

How can you tell if something should be eliminated unless you've run it the way it was intended to be run? If you are going to eliminate something, what would you emphasize in its place? The main thing I would change is an individual recognition among the membership of what is good, what is better and what is best. If everyone took that responsibility seriously and only focused on the "best" things, much of the "good" simply would die away. Until the members take that responsibility on their own, however, I don't want the Church to eliminate things on a widespread level and "limit my choices" about what I can do. 

So I say, don't ask the Church to change first or primarily; change yourself and live whatever you feel is best, according to the dictates of your own conscience. Pick and choose which non-Sunday meetings and activities to attend, how much to pay in Fast Offerings, how often to attend the temple, how to serve others in the community and/or world, etc. Take responsibility for your own decisions, ironically, as the Church constantly requests. 

I'm trying hard to change myself, regardless of how the Church changes. Ultimately, I take responsibility for how I construct my own life by what I prioritize, and getting others to do the same (no matter what the individual outcome) would be the one thing I would "change about the church".

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who Cares How the Book of Mormon Was Translated?

Many people are bothered by the fact that most of the Book of Mormon was "translated" without Joseph looking at the plates directly - that he covered his face in his hat and "saw" the words appear through the seer stones. My response is quite simple:


What difference would it make HOW the plates were used, as long as the message on them (or conveyed through them) was conveyed and recorded?

At the risk of being offensive to some, as long as the message is inspired and gets recorded, I wouldn't care if Joseph dressed up in a monkey suit and dictated the words to a scribe as the plates swung back and forth on a vine - or if he rested his feet on them in a pail of milk - or whatever other ludicrous translation method that I could conjure. If the central point was tapping into a narrative that he couldn't "read" ("translate" in the orthodox sense) no matter what he did but, instead, relying on the power and gift of God (which is always what he claimed), then his choice to block out all light and focus intently on "seeing" with his "spiritual eyes" is about as "normal" as it gets.


I listen to many authors and song writers, for example, describe how they came to write their stories or songs, and it's interesting how many of them who wrote truly great stories and songs felt the words just flow out of them. It is interesting, particularly, how many of them talk about struggling to start then having the rest come gushing out all at once like a dam breaking. Many of them describe the experience in very religious terms, no matter their own religiosity.


Whether the plates were authentically an ancient record or not (and I accept that they were), as I read Joseph's account of how the translation process occurred, I am struck by the similarity between that process and the great authors and songwriters. He seems to have needed the plates at the beginning to act as the catalyst, but once the dam broke the entire narrative seemed to gush forth simply by his concentrating on it.


The key in my mind is NOT the historicity of the plates (which I personally accept, since I can't know for sure), but rather the authenticity and power of the recorded message (of which I personally feel sure).
In other words, I accept the historicity of the message, even though I can envision a scenario where the plates themselves might not be historically authentic - or might not have included the ancient record - meaning they might have been a "prop" God used to open the eyes of a prophet and seer in order to record what He had promised earlier prophets and seers would be preserved for a later day. I can envision that possibility, but I choose to accept the Book of Mormon as truly historical - and I have absolutely no problem with the translation method as it was described.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Favorite Quotes from the World-Wide Training on the New Church Handbook of Instructions

The following are taken from my notes and are the best recreations I am able to make - since I can't record exact quotes when I take notes:

The women in the council were engaged in the conversation. We haven't always encouraged that as we should. (Elder Holland)


International areas don't have models for how to run the Church. The CHI generally is the only "model" they have. (Elder Gonzales)


My fondest wish is that we could remove the word "meeting" from our vocabulary - as in, "We are going to a meeting." I wish we could view them as "revelatory experiences" - and that won't happen unless we strive to make them such experiences and quit viewing them just as meetings.  (Elder Bednar)

There is great power in group synergy - when WE decide we will act together. Women are just as important as men in everything we do. (Elder Ballard)


We have to decide what counts. The Savior didn't count statistics and numbers. What counted to him was caring, love, service, ministering, blessing, etc. We need to make a new beginning in the Church and count as He counts."  (Pres. Julie Beck)


The following are from Elder Packer's closing remarks - and reminded me of why I sustain him as a prophet, seer, revelator and apostle: 

This CHI is meant to provide "simplification and flexibility". "Let me underline that."

Pres. Clark once said that too much regimentation can remove revelation. We are in danger of that happening in the Church.

ALL meetings should be conducted by the Spirit. It is time for our young men and young women to prophecy and for our old men and women to dream dreams.



There is a danger of establishing the Church and not the Gospel. Planting the Gospel in our hearts MUST accompany having the Church in our lives. Busy-ness can't replace testimony.

Families are not tools to staff the Church; the Church is a tool to serve families. Don't over-burden families!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

No New Year's Resolution Post This Weekend Due to Illness

I have been feeling quite sick this week, and, since I was traveling two of the days and had a large group visit day on campus today, I have not taken the break I should have taken to get better.  Thus, I had to leave work early this afternoon, once the campus visit day was over, and crash at home.  I slept for hours this evening, woke up a little bit ago, and am headed back to bed in a few minutes.  Hopefully, I will be able to rest more and recover fully by Sunday morning - since I have a speaking assignment in one of the wards in our stake that will require I drive a ways to attend. 

May your weekend be blessed and your spirits renewed in some way.  I'll be back to my regular schedule on Monday. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

When Current Counsel Contradicts Former Counsel


I believe that members who ignore current counsel by holding tightly to former counsel actually perpetuate incorrect ideas and reject current leaders. For example, the Church used to teach its members to date only other members, but the official, current dating standards in For the Strength of Youth don't include it. I see teaching the former standard now as ignoring current counsel by holding onto past counsel.

In theory, it's no different to me than someone today ignoring recent statements by Pres. Hinckley and Elder Oaks about racism and continuing to embrace the justifications that were used by Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie (that Elder McConkie repudiated shortly after the ban was lifted and Pres. Hinckley condemned in no uncertain terms for us now). Again, if the Church changes it's counsel in some matter, valuing prophetic counsel includes letting go of former counsel - like the former prohibition on dating non-members.

I believe wholeheartedly that following prophetic counsel is important, but I also believe in the absolute necessity for individual inspiration and adaptation. The fact that I allow for individual exceptions based on a belief in direct intervention of the Holy Ghost doesn't diminish how I view prophetic counsel. In every case where I feel I have not been given direct and explicit counsel otherwise, I have tried to follow prophetic counsel with exactness, specifically because I value it so highly. Rather, it simply means that I believe following what I feel to be God's direct counsel to me as an individual is of utmost importance, even in those RARE circumstances when it conflicts with prophetic counsel to all. I see that principle taught in so many places throughout all of our canon that it appears to be crystal clear to me.

Abraham sacrificing Issac; Nephi killing Laban; Captain Moroni threatening to overthrow the government; Joseph Smith instituting polygamy; so many more - It's easy to discount these examples, since they are prophets acting out exceptions, but the fact remains that they were told by the Spirit to do things that went against the general counsel of their day - and their exceptions were MUCH more severe than anything I have felt inspired to do. In each case, they "ignored" the prophetic counsel that governed their day and acted as they felt compelled to do by a member of the Godhead. They valued that individual counsel so much that they acted against general counsel they also valued greatly.

This is bedrock Gospel to me, since I believe we will be judged individually on how well we learned to understand and do the will of God for us as individuals - NOT just by how well we marched in lock-step to general command in comparison to those around us. I view the highest manifestation of our commitment to the Gospel as being what we are willing to do to ascertain His will for us individually - to discover what work and mission he has for us personally and fulfilling it individually. In my opinion, "To obey (what God tells us personally to do no matter the cost or difficulty to understand) is better than to sacrifice (our agency by doing nothing more than what is given to everyone as general counsel)." Joseph Smith would not have been the Prophet of this Dispensation - and I would not be the unique son of God that I am - extended to each and every child of God - if he did not listen for and hear the word of God to him and us - if all of us ignored personal revelation, even when it contradicted general counsel, and lived essentially the exact same life.

Perhaps there are those who can fill the measure of their creation within the general counsel - who are called to follow the general counsel without exception. I am fine with that idea, and I don't think that makes them any less "worthy" than others who perhaps are prompted to do something that is an exception. I'm not saying such a person is "better" in any way than anyone else - not at all, in any way, shape or form. I'm really saying there is no "better than someone else" - as long as each is doing what she feels she is being commanded and counseled to do within the general framework of obedience to counsel and command.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

May My Descendants Redeem Me When I am Dead

Margaret Young wrote a moving post on By Common Consent last year entitled, "They Fought as They Were Taught". The entire post is worth reading, but in a follow-up comment (Comment #3) she said something that really struck me as profound:

In LDS theology, we talk about “redeeming the dead.” I think at least a portion of this means that we undo their errors and create a better world on the foundation–but also the ruins–of what they’ve left to us. Sometimes, we simply rearrange the ruins like a puzzle which makes a different kind of sense in a different kind of world. They bequeath both a legacy and a burden–and we are called to responsibility.

I love this perspective on redeeming the dead, and I pray that my own descendants will redeem me in exactly this manner. To do so, they will have to see me as redeemable, even if some of my beliefs seem ignorant (or even abominable) in the lens of 20/20 hindsight 150 years later. I pray they use that hindsight charitably and realize I was doing the best I could with what I know, just as they will be doing as they look back at me and forward to the judgment of their own descendants.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If You Want to Be Loved and Understood By Others

My mother is a saintly woman in many ways, but she also has a rare form of schizophrenia. If she gets overwhelmed, her mind won't shut down and she has a nervous breakdown. I'd love to be able to have deep, nuanced discussions with her, but they would get her mind spinning so fast it would be extremely detrimental to her well-being. I understand that, so I keep our Gospel conversations simple and faith-promoting.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with her intellectually. She was a straight A student in school and a top-notch legal secretary before her disability surfaced. She just can't handle things that would "rock her reality", and she can't multi-task, and she can't worry about things. Her life needs to be lived on an even keel - and what my father has done to protect her leaves me in awe. [If you are interested, you can read my tribute to him here: My Niece Died This Morning.]

It might be easier for me to realize, since my mother's situation is a medically diagnosed condition, but the concept is the exact same for all: If someone can't get what you believe, and if it causes intense pain to try to make them understand, stop! Don't inflict that pain on them. Quit being selfish and be selfless. Put their emotional and spiritual well-being ahead of your own.

I learned that lesson vicariously from my father, and it is profound and life-altering. Frankly, it's probably the most important advice I can give on the topic of understanding and love and acceptance. If you want to be loved for who you are, love others for who they are - truly and sincerely, without expectation of reciprocation. Treat them truly as you would want to be treated. After all, "We love Him, because he first loved us." (I John 4:19)

Monday, November 8, 2010

When the Prophet Speaks the Debate Is Over - but Not the Decision-Making for Individuals

"When the prophet speaks, the debate (for the general membership of the Church as a whole) is over."

I have no problem with that construct, especially since "debate" implies active and public arguing to most people. 

"When the prophet speaks, the decision-making process for each and every individual member is over."

I believe strongly that such a construct is incorrect.   Each of us must decide whether or not we can accept what is said individually - but, if we truly believe the words are coming from a prophet, we should be very, very careful if we decide to set it aside personally that we are confident the decision to do so is inspired by God.

I have done so myself (chosen to do something contrary to the general counsel given by the prophets), but I have done so rarely and consciously and only as an exception. Also, I think it is critical to distinguish between what is given as counsel ("can, may, should, usually, often, etc.") and what is given as command ("must, will, all, always, etc.).  I have found there is relatively little "must" and much "should" and "can" in what we are told - and a whole lot of responsibility for adapting general counsel to our own unique situations.

I still believe, however, that we carry a responsibility to not reject the words of the prophets and apostles automatically and out-of-hand, simply because we initially don't like them. I believe our first obligation is to attempt to understand exactly what is being said, without the interpretive bias inherent in emotional reactions, and do our best to find a way to understand how we can support what is asked - even if only to a relatively small degree or a certain part. If we can't do that and are confident our decision is inspired, fine; that is our right. We simply should give the prophets the benefit of the doubt and make an honest and sincere effort to understand how their words might apply to us. 

Knee-jerk, automatic, or hyperbolic rejection is never justified.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Charity Hopeth All Things

My New Year's Resolution this month is to "hope more things" - taken, like the rest of my monthly resolutions, from Paul's discourse on charity in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  As I almost always do the first weekend of each month, I looked up and pondered the meaning (or possible meanings) of the aspect of charity that is the focus of my effort this month - in this case, "hope".

The following definitions are very similar, but I want to combine them into one comprehensive definition for the beginning of this month's contemplation:
–verb (used with object)
1.to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.
2.to believe, desire, or trust. 
–verb (used without object)
3.to feel that something desired may happen. 
4.Archaic. to place trust; rely (usually fol. by in). 
The verse in question uses "hope" as a verb with an object ("all things"), so #1 and #2 are the most precise definitions for that verse - but I want to include #4, as well, specifically because the phrase / concept "hope in Christ" is so common to us.  Also, in the context of the overall passage, I think it is important to incorporate last month's resolution focus ("charity believeth all things"), which I am going to translate as it is listed later in the chapter as the "faith" that precedes hope.  Therefore, the definition I am proposing for my resolution this month translates the original phrase into:

Charity believes, desires and trusts, with reasonable confidence, all things - through its trust in and reliance on the promises of God (expressed as faith in Jesus, the Christ).  

I believe that distinction is critical for ME, personally, since my hope really is centered on what I believe to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the "Good News" he taught and lived as a replacement for the "Old News" prior to his life, ministry and death.  (I understand that such will not be the case for all people, but it is important for my own personal resolution.)  In my subsequent posts this month, I will focus on some of what I believe are the most important things for or in which I hope - but, as I did with the idea of "believing all things", I want to start by mentioning explicitly and directly that the idea of hoping ALL things is founded on the belief that we are open to a recognition and acceptance of all things.  It implies quite strongly that we must be open-minded enough to avoid NOT HOPING something out of hand, especially simply because we don't understand it or think it is impossible.  After all, there's no real power in hoping for the obvious or bland or mundane.  The "tricky" part of this definition is the part about "reasonable confidence" - since that is an individual, variable standard.

I also want to make one more observation that I believe is not as obvious upon first reading - but which I believe also is critical to the central concept of hoping all things: 

If we "hope" all things, of necessity we cannot "know" all things.  The entire orientation of believing and hoping all things rests irrevocably on the foundation of recognizing there are some things we simply don't know - both conceptually (believing) and practically (hoping).  It's easy to say we only believe and hope things until we know them, and I cannot and will not dispute that basic construct.  However, there is a strong thread throughout 1 Corinthians 13 of realizing that we do not now and never will understand "all things" fully - that, until the very end, when all is "perfect" (complete, whole, fully developed), there will remain at least some things that we will "see through a glass, darkly".  There might be individual exceptions to this rule, but I believe I am not one of them - and, therefore, it is important for me to make that point up-front and at the beginning of the month.

Also, I believe we cannot "know" something in practical terms until we have experienced it.  Much of my "hope" is in things that I will not experience until after I die - and I have no expectation that I will one of the very few in our recorded history to have experiences that will enable me to say I know through my own experiences about those particular things.

Friday, November 5, 2010

We All Experience Repentance and Forgiveness Differently

When it comes to repentance, I believe people simply experience it in varying ways - for three reasons:

1) People simply experience things differently.

Members tend to over-generalize the most common examples onto everyone (like Oliver Cowdery's burning and stupor), but we are taught that the gifts and fruits of the Spirit are various and diverse. Some experience a unique calm; others a flash of insight ("pure intelligence"); others a cessation of worry or doubt (a "settling of the issue" feeling); others a sudden burst of joy; others, like me, a sense of peace. Whatever the specific manifestation, the person generally recognizes that they feel differently about it - that they no longer feel racked or tormented or pained by it. The "suffering" has been removed. That's enough for me.

2) I also believe the intensity of the feeling of forgiveness generally is commensurate with the level or degree of unrighteousness inherent in the actual sin. ("Your joy will be as sweet as your anguish was bitter.")

Alma, for example, felt he had been involved in the spiritual murder of people; of course, his suffering was INTENSE - as was the subsequent release from that suffering. His forgiveness was distinct and intense, because his repentance ("change") was meteoric and immediate. (If you can call three days of intense suffering immediate.)

3) Most of us, however, don't go from sinning in a vile manner to sudden and full repentance. Most of us change gradually from one stage to another (line-upon-line, precept upon precept), so our recognition of the change (repentance) and the subsequent forgiveness is not nearly as intense as someone like Alma - or Zeezrom. Think about it: How many times in the entire scriptural canon do we read of experiences similar to Alma's? Very, very rarely. You almost have to start at one extreme to experience the other in a sudden and dramatic way. Otherwise, it's incremental and subtle - and, again, I'm fine with that.

I really would rather not descend to the point where such a conversion and intense forgiveness would be possible, since I don't want to risk not being able to change. God had a specific mission for Alma that required he be raked over the coals in that manner; I kind of hope he doesn't have that in store for me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Different Interpretations of the Atonement Can Be Equally Compelling

I'm not sure the concept of the suffering aspect of the Atonement isn't just as figurative as the Garden of Eden account. I don't mean that Christ didn't suffer, because I believe He did, but I mean that the actual transference of the result of sin doesn't have to be literal to make the concept of a vicarious sacrifice a reality. Vicarious suffering doesn't have to be "eye for an eye" suffering, especially in a culture that used scapegoats as a symbol of forgiveness that was highly symbolic. I think it needs to be presented as a literal transference in order to be powerful in the lives of many people who are literalists (just like the Garden of Eden needs to be seen as literal by many people), but I believe the "presentation of the symbolism" and the "actual event" can be different things.

What I mean is that as long as He suffered beyond what any human could suffer, as long as it was deep anguish and emotional/spiritual torment that would drop even the strongest of all to His knees and cause him to beg for it to end (exactly like what Alma described), then that symbolically would qualify as "godly suffering". As long as He was overwhelmed and couldn't continue on His own (needed the additional,angelic strength to get through it), then it would qualify as "a surrogate lamb (the Son) being sacrificed by another (the Father)" symbolically for the sins of the people. Remember, in that culture, just as in ours, in many cases the alternate payment doesn't have to be exactly what is owed; it can be a payment of "everything one possesses" or "one's all". If Jesus gave His all, that "all" symbolically would wipe out the debts of our "all".

There is
MUCH of the application of the Plan of Salvation into our mortal existence that can be figurative without losing an ounce of power and "reality" - since symbols are "living" and "real" and "powerful" in every sense of the word.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ful Testimony Is Not Possible Without Full Involvement

An acquaintance once asked me the following question in an on-line conversation:

“When you tell (your children) about stuff like the priesthood, do you also give them the option to not participate, or to postpone involvement until they receive their own testimony of it? I'm just curious because you seem to be fairly tolerant of unbelievers, and you have a lot of parenting years under your belt (much more than me.)”

I look at things like the Priesthood pretty directly: I believe, and I teach my kids that I believe. For example, all of them have seen the effects of blessings, more than once in undeniably miraculous ways - and I have shared with them experiences with blessings where they weren't involved. I believe they can't gain a real testimony of something unless they experience it, so I encourage them to experience it. When it comes to the Priesthood, I don't want them to "postpone involvement until they receive their own testimony of it", because I don't believe they can gain a real testimony without involvement in it. They might gain an intellectual or vicarious testimony (a belief of some sort), but that's not a real testimony, in my opinion. They have gained as much of a testimony as is possible as a recipient of ordinances (the boys and the girls), but the boys need to be involved on the other end to really understand it fully - just as the girls need to understand their own power through prayer and being in tune enough with the Spirit to give the same type of advice (verbal blessing) that the boys would give in a formal, Priesthood blessing.

Of course, if they don't feel ready for something, I won't push or pressure them into it. My oldest son postponed his mission two years in order to reach a natural break in his schooling, and I wasn't sure for a while if he really would go. It was his decision, and, looking back, the overall timing couldn't have been better.

Finally, as to the "exclusivity" of the Priesthood, I believe it is limited (pun intended) to the areas where the Article of Faith says it's necessary - to preach the Restored Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof. Outside of those specific responsibilities, I don't believe there's one bit of difference in the prayer of the righteous - no matter the religion or denomination or gender of the one offering the prayer. The prayer of faith is the prayer of faith, and God is no respecter of persons.