Thursday, June 30, 2011

Blessed by God: Individual Journies That Are Acceptable to Him

A friend of mine wrote the following comment a while ago in a thread about finding our way to God - and how not all of us walk the same pathway in that journey. I thought it was incredibly insightful, and I really like the scriptural reference to very different journeys that were blessed by God despite their differences. My friend excerpted a couple of comments from other people, and I have copied here the entire thing - excerpts and all:
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There are times when I wonder if all that's really required is a good honest heart toward other people (hard work, love, caring for others, etc.) - and all this ordinance / sacrifice / priesthood holding, moving, etc. is the invention of men. Blessed by God, but only one of a number of paths that are acceptable to Him.


A good scriptural account of this principle is how the Lord worked with the brother of Jared. The important thing was that a journey needed to happen - to get the people to the promised land.

The boats were just tools in the journey. How the boats would work, or have light to support life, could be done a number of ways.

The Lord lets the brother of Jared choose one way (crystal stones touched and lighted by God's power), and God reaches His finger through the veil to oblige and bless that choice.

That is one way you can get to the promised land. Obviously, other groups did it differently, and the Lord blessed their "ways" also. In the end, it was the journey and what the individuals learned along the journey that mattered, not the details.

I think this way about the Temple Ceremony, and possible sources Joseph Smith might have used to create it. If it was blessed by the Lord, than that is fine for me. As [someone else] put it:

I'm chalking it up to human ideas.

I think in many cases . . . they're pretty good [or even transcendent] ideas and can help me feel close to God, as long as I don't get so caught up in the literal teachings that I fail to benefit from the symbolic and spiritual truths and principles they are meant to convey. The details are far less important than how I use them to reach my intended destination.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Children and Conversion

I remember in the MTC wanting to feel an overwhelming feeling - the classic burning in the bosom, since I have had a conviction of the Gospel and the Restoration since as early as I can remember. I came to realize that I truly had a real testimony, even though I rarely felt a burning in my bosom, but the nature of my conversion never registered completely until a couple of years ago when I was out with the missionaries - visiting an inactive member of our branch.

This woman works Sundays, so she is unable to attend church. As we talked, however, she told us about her upbringing - how she had asked her minister at the age of 7 why Heavenly "Father" wasn't married (since a father needs a mother, right?) - and why scripture stopped with the Bible (since God appeared and spoke to Paul after Jesus' death, right?) - and on and on and on. She said she simply understood at that age that these types of questions were important, and that she needed to find the answers.

As I listened to her, it struck me that she was describing me. The only difference is that I had the answers growing up for which she was searching. We both understood them when we heard them; I just heard them at the age when she was recognizing and searching for them. My "conversion" - as a BIC member - was exactly like hers would have been if she had heard the answers in her youth.

I have served in many callings in the Church, including numerous ones that dealt with missionary work and teaching about testimonies, but I had never grasped that children in the Church truly can be "converted" prior to baptism. I had come to understand that my own testimony was gained while in my youth and was real, but I had not equated it with an adult conversion. As a school teacher, I knew that we vastly underestimate the learning capacity of most of our children, but I had never related that to their capacity for true conversion.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done: Some Things Simply Can't Be Coincidental

Almost exactly two years ago, I got a phone call from my youngest brother telling me that my mother's medication had quit working again and she was starting to hallucinate. I had just started my new job in Missouri; my family still was in Ohio; I was driving to church on a Sunday morning - alone - when I got the call.

As I prayed while I drove, the phrase "Thy will, O Lord, be done" came into my mind - clearly and calmly.

When I got to church, I was quite early, so I went into the RS room and sat down at the piano to play some relaxing music and try to not stress out about my mother's condition. When I opened the hymnal, I saw hymn #188 - "Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done". I played it and sang the words silently in my head. It was a wonderful few minutes, full of the recognition of God's grace and love and understanding of my personal situation that day.

When I walked into the chapel to sit and wait for Sacrament Meeting to start, I looked at the program and saw the intermediate hymn - #188, "Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done".

I can't explain what happened that day, and I can't explain why it happened to me and doesn't happen to some others, but I am grateful that it did.

God knows us individually.  Of that, I am certain.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Son Finishes His Mission on Monday

My wife and I are picking up our son from his mission next Monday. We are leaving this weekend and will be gone for most of next week.

I probably won't be able to check in much, if at all, while we are gone - but I went ahead and took care of posts and links for the week. I'd miss all of you, but I probably won't think of you much over the next week!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

How Did Joesph View the Book of Mormon?

I don't think Joseph Smith understood the content of the Book of Mormon very well. Before anyone calls me a heretic for saying that, let me explain.

By not understanding it very well, I mean ONLY the actual content of the BofM. Much of what was taught back then about it was more generalities than specifics and doesn't really match the text very well - as it would have if he had studied it rigorously - or been like most authors and knew it inside and out. Ironically, his apparent lack of textual understanding of it is one of the things that leads me to accept that he translated it rather than having written it.

If we accept his general statements about visitations / visions, it seems to me that he learned some very basic, general things about it and the people it describes - but it doesn't appear he got an in-depth "tutorial" on it. In other words, it appears Moroni told him a few broad, sweeping things about the book and the people, but that most of the time they spent conversing each year was dedicated to other things he would need to know to magnify the overall calling God was giving him.

Personally, with what I've been able to glean about him and his personality, I just don't think he cared much about the Book of Mormon as a religious proof text - so he didn't study it intently to create / restore the core theology of Mormonism. I think that process was "other revelation" driven. I believe this for one major reason:

Frankly, most of the "heretical" doctrines of Mormonism aren't in the Book of Mormon and/or Pearl of Great Price. Many of the more "advanced" teachings are in the Doctrine & Covenants, but most of the truly unique concepts were taken from interpretations of the Bible - which is why, I think, Joseph once said that the main difference between Mormons and Protestants is that Mormons believe the Bible and Protestants don't.

I think he was MUCH more interested in re-establishing what he viewed as a pure Biblical theology than in using the Book of Mormon to do so - and I personally think that is pretty much indisputable. I think he saw the Book of Mormon as what some ancient prophets thought and taught, but I think he viewed its purpose MUCH more as a second witness of the Bible (as is stated explicitly in the book itself in at least two places) and a witness of his calling (as it was used in most early missionary work) than as a primary, doctrinal proof text.

I like that view, since I think it fits the book itself much better than using it to prove doctrine.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scriptural Translation Hypocrites: The Ultimate Irony

I have to laugh - and I mean really laugh - at those who complain about the wording of the Book of Mormon (that it's too much like the King James Version of the Bible and what Joseph and the people of his time spoke), while tripping all over themselves to use non-KJV translations of the Bible because that version is too hard to understand. It's totally fine to translate the Bible into words and phrases that adults and children and teenagers now will understand (resulting in hundreds of translation versions), but it's not OK for Jospeh to use words the readers of his time would understand?!?!

If people hundreds of years from now could access only the most modern versions of the Bible, they would reject it out-of-hand as being a "product of its time" - exactly as so many people reject the Book of Mormon for that reason.

Hypocrisy, thy name is . . . never mind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Disgusting, Gross - and Side-Splitting Funny Mission Stories

Barfing for Jesus - Aaron B. (By Common Consent)

An epic thread of disgustingness, as well.  The ending of comment #34 is particularly . . . amazing. 

Some things shouldn't be funny but simply are.  This is one of those things. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Learning Modalities and How They Affect Religious Communication

Most classroom teachers teach by using the same modality with which they learn best. Those who learn aurally (by hearing things articulated verbally) tend to lecture; those who are visual learners tend to do PowerPoint presentations or use lots of pictures; those who are kinesthetic learners (by movement and physical contact) tend to assign hands-on projects; etc. Generally, this holds true even if the majority of their students learn best through different modalities than the teachers do.

Those who are the best teachers (who can reach the most students in a way that those students will understand) are those who understand the dominant modality of each student and find a way to present the instructional material in ways that allow all the dominant modalities to be employed. That's a very difficult thing to do, so there are students who end up in most classrooms not understanding what the teacher is trying to teach.

I personally think this happens in religion just as much as in the academic classroom, if not more so - since people tend to imbue their religious learning modalities with divine approbation and assume all will experience God (or not experience God) in the same way they do. I see this all the time around the Bloggernacle - people talking past each other to a large degree, often because their own manners of experiencing the divine simply are different.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Envy Less: The Vulnerability of Removing Our Masks

As I have contemplated being less envious this week, I realized that there is a direct connection to two of my favorite topics: Elder Wirthlin's talk "Concern for the One" (my wife and children won't be surprised at that) and the idea that Zion only can be established if we remove the masks we tend to wear and expose our warts to others. Wearing those masks to cover our warts (or, in other wards, hiding our faults) is  one of the most deeply ingrained aspects of the “natural (wo)man” - a self-protection mechanism that is as fundamental to humanity as any other natural inclination. Our particular challenge in church, I believe, is to recognize it as such and rise above it - to change it (repent) by an active exercise of will (to act and not to be acted upon).

The “fault” at church for wearing masks is two-edged: 1) those in the majority who actively reject the minority for being different and/or believing things differently; 2) those in the minority who hide themselves and passively reject the majority for being different and/or believing things differently. In the end, it really is the same action - and the justification on each side is also the same. Each type tends to blame the other, and neither type tends to take the initiative to change the natural situation.

In “Concern for the One”, Elder Wirthlin articulated clearly that some leave active participation and lose faith because they act, think or feel different than others - and he told the majority that it was their responsibility to love and accept the minority for who they are, NOT for who the majority might naturally want them to be. He said that every voice (every instrument) needs to be heard, NOT that every member should learn to play the piccolo.  That is critical to envying less, since part of envying (with regard to this analogy) is to compare one's instrument to that of another and latch onto anger or some other separating emotion as a result.  Learning truly to value other instruments and not wish you play a different one than you do eradicates envy - and once that feeling is eliminated, it is much easier to play your own instrument with confidence, even if you are the only one in the congregation playing that particular instrument. 

I believe we will become Zion only as we let go of the need to wear masks - and I believe the primary responsibility for this lies not with those who feel different but with those from whom they feel different. (It's important for the oboe players to play their oboes, but it's more important for the piccolo players to allow those oboes to be heard - even if there are 85 piccolos and only one oboe.)  Yes, the "one" needs to be engaged actively, but the "ninety and nine" need to love and accept the "one" for that to happen.

The biggest problem in this regard within the Church is not the gay member, or the illegal immigrant member, or the politically different member, or the bearded member, or the tatooed member, or the colored-shirt and no tie member, or the smoker, ad infinitum. The biggest problem is the fact that those distinctions are drawn in a way that excludes those members from the fellowship of oneness with the saints. Although those who are excluded might share a portion of responsibility for being excluded, as often as not the primary responsibility lies with those who do the excluding.

I believe ALL of us wear a mask of some kind that covers varying degrees of our true selves from others.  This leads to envy and contention and a loss of charity and true acceptance.  Before we condemn or even judge others in any way, we need to remove our own masks, become vulnerable and experience the fear others feel on a regular basis. I think if we do that the tendency to judge and condemn and drive others away will disappear - and we will have a chance at truly building Zion.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why Church Activity Sometimes Is a Facade - and the Solution

The following was my initial response to a post on Mormon Matters a couple of years ago entitled, The Facade of Activity, written by Jeff Spector:

It is interesting to me that "the Church" keeps saying, over and over and over, that it can only be a supplement to what happens at the individual level and in the individual home. I think a lot of members just don't get that idea - that they equate "the Church" to the entity that is responsible for their spirituality and righteousness.

Thus, the "facade" (imo) is the gap between what they want "the Church" to be and what it actually is.

I don't think that will change EVER for ANYONE until leaders at the local level and individual members focus on preaching Jesus and His life more than Christ crucified and programs implemented. Christ crucified (and resurrected, of course) saves us, but Jesus of Nazareth showed and taught us how to live and become. That's what truly converts, imo (repenting [changing] and becoming more like Jesus) - and truly converted people use activity in church (and all kinds, really) to bless and love and serve others, not for themselves.

I get tired of people trying to come up with "how to reach people". If it were a matter of creating some program, it would have been created by now. Programs and activities are important for what they do (bring people together for a chance at mutual edification), but that's about all they can do - they can't provide the actual edification.

For example, one of my former Stake Presidents talked once to the Bishops about serving in the community simply to bless and help others - NOT as a "missionary tool". He talked about not seeing people (inside and outside the Church) as potential converts or projects, but instead simply as brothers and sisters in need. He talked about not accepting others for who we want them to be (conditionally), but simply loving them for who they are (unconditionally) - hoping they will grow with us to be "new creatures in Christ" but loving them completely even if we never see any change.

To me, that is the heart of the difference between activity as a "facade" and activity as a sign of conversion.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why do we suffer in mortality?

A good friend of mine wrote the following in a discussion about suffering that we had last year.  I thought it was profound then, and I decided to post it here when I came across it again yesterday.  
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The scriptures contain three main explanations for suffering: 

1. God punishes those who disobey him. 

In this case, God causes the suffering. 

Example: Israel is defeated militarily and taken into captivity by foreign invaders because they did not worship YHWH correctly (or some other god).

2. God allows suffering to happen because of the sin of others.

In this case, people cause suffering, and God allows it but does not directly cause it.

Example: A king of Israel is wicked, and Israel is defeated militarily and suffers because the king is not faithful (even though people individually might not have sinned and deserved to be killed/enslaved) 

3. Suffering exists to foster a greater good.

The cause is a combination of the above two, but is directed in both cases by the will of God to enlighten people or to bring about a greater good.

Examples: Christ did no wrong, but he suffered to bring about the atonement for others. The apostle Paul suffered in order to prove that he was a true disciple of Jesus Christ (his own viewpoint in his letters). And in Mormon theology, we suffer in our life so that we will learn lessons (a process of enlightenment). 
I posit a fourth explanation from my current view of existence: 
4. We suffer collectively, as a people because we want suffering more than not suffering.
We will suffer and cause suffering until we decide (collectively) to stop. This is very similar to #3, except that it doesn't require a central authority (God) directing and orchestrating the suffering. In my own view, we can decide to no longer suffer. We can still experience physical pain, but spiritual suffering is a choice we make. We experience and cause suffering by wanting something else (anger, violence, revenge, theft, etc.) more than peace. 


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I recognize that there is suffering that falls outside this fourth explanation (particularly that suffering which occurs strictly as a result of the physiology of The Fall, like depression and numerous disabilities of varying kinds, which we did not choose and over which we often have limited control), but I really like the overall idea that we do have a degree of control over our "suffering" - especially through an Atonement theology that posits a God who has suffered all we suffer in order to know how to succor His people in the midst of their suffering.   This allows us to turn our suffering over to Him who has suffered already and not let our natural, unavoidable suffering define who we are and can become. 

I also love the implication that it is fine to look for ways to alleviate sufering - like medications for depression, for example.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wrap It Up Already! I'm Dead.

When it comes to the structure and "program" for a funeral, I want the wishes of the deceased and family to be honored. Period.

I mentioned in a post a couple of years ago, about the serving Bishop who died in our stake at that time, that I attended his funeral. It was exactly the standard Mormon funeral - with a eulogy, lots of beautiful music and a couple of talks about him and the Gospel he loved so dearly. It was exactly what he and his wife wanted, and it was intensely moving and beautiful - to a large degree because even the “gospel” talks were focused on Bishop Hazleton. Even they were personal in nature.

On the other hand, I have attended funerals that had the same format and that weren’t nearly as moving or beautiful. The talks were more like regular church talks - having little or nothing to do with the person - and sometimes not what the deceased would have wanted.

I have told my wife and children that I want to have a tape recorder placed in my coffin for the funeral. I want it set at the highest volume level possible and set to play my voice after one hour saying,

“STOP IT ALREADY!! IF THIS KEEPS GOING, ROLL ME OUT OF HERE AND THEN KEEP TALKING. I DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT! THAT’S ENOUGH TALKING ABOUT ME AND CRYING. I MADE YOU LAUGH WHEN I WAS LIVING, SO GET INTO THE CULTURAL HALL AND PARTY!! TELL JOKES, ‘CAUSE YOU KNOW DARN WELL I’D BE TELLING THEM IF I WAS SITTING THERE WITH YOU (WITH MY WIFE PUNCHING ME IN THE ARM TO TRY TO GET ME TO STOP AND BE PROPERLY SOMBER). — I MEAN IT. WRAP IT UP ALREADY AND GO EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY!!”

I have NO expectation that my wife and/or children will follow those wishes, but that would be my ideal funeral - a heartfelt eulogy by a friend or family member and lots and lots of great music and dancing and eating - a real party. I want to be celebrated, not mourned . . . but that’s not my call, ultimately.

In the end, I want my wife and/or children to construct whatever arrangement will be best for them - that will bring them the greatest degree of peace.

Monday, June 13, 2011

This Perspective Works Best for Me Right Now

There are lots of topics and discussions where, ultimately, my answer is, "I don't know (am not certain), but this perspective works best for me right now." There are many things where I believe my understanding will change over time, as I am exposed to more outlooks, have various experiences, contemplate more deeply and receive greater light and knowledge.

For that reason, the last thing I want to do is shatter someone else's "working perspective" by insisting they see things my way, because:

1) they actually might be right (as much as I might doubt it at the moment);

2) they might be seeing things exactly as they need to see them in order to cope best;

3) they might not be able to see things my way at the moment, even if I am correct.

I see my responsibility as modeling acceptance of different perspectives - simply because I believe it is the right thing to do and because I want them to accept my different perspective. I can't hold them to a standard I myself can't live.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Different Definition of Being Less Envious

As I was preparing to write my New Year's Resolution post for this week, I felt prompted to review what I had written last year while I was focused on the idea that "charity envieth not".  I will post my thoughts this week as part of my resolution post next weekend, but tonight I want to re-post my introductory thoughts from last February.  I needed the reminder at the end of this week, and I hope someone else benefits from that post, as well:
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Last month, my New Year's Resolution focus was on the first manifestation of charity - that of suffering long in kindness. This month, my focus is on charity's second characteristic - that of "envying not". As I tend to do, I want to look first at what this phrase ("envieth not") means - followed throughout the month by why it is important, how it is internalized and how it flows from suffering long in kindness.

Envy often is looked upon as covetousness - and, in fact, in some modern dictionary usages the verb "envy" is listed as a synonym of the verb "covet". However, in its original meaning "envy" carries a much more fundamental connotation. From dictionary.com:

c.1280, from O.Fr. envie, from L. invidia "envy, jealousy," from invidus "envious," from invidere "envy," earlier "look at (with malice), cast an evil eye upon"

Thus, charity does not look at others with malice or in an evil manner. "Malice" is defined as:


desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness


[NOTEA reader last February sent me a link to the 1828 Webster's Revised Dictionary definition of "envy". It carries a slightly more modern interpretation of the word, and I really like it as an extension of this post for modern times.]

"To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another; to repine at another''s prosperity; to fret or grieve one's self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account."

This aspect of charity (like long-suffering and kindness) is a foundational one, since it defines the very eyes with which someone sees others. In a very real way, someone is able to look upon others without malice and evil specifically because of one's long-suffering and kindness - recognizing that all the myriad types of pain and suffering experienced in this life come from living this life, not strictly from the people who surround us in this life. Thus, someone who possesses true charity is able to look past the instrument of suffering - kindly seeing the inevitability of suffering and not allowing herself to get caught up in a maliciously evil mindset that would eliminate kindness in her actions and reactions.

Notice that this phrase ("envieth not"), as defined in this manner, does not carry the connotations of possession that generally accompany its use in modern times. In other words, there is no delineation of wanting what another has in this phrasing. That is covetousness - and envying, in this usage, can rear its head no matter of socio-economic status. One can look upon another with malice and an evil eye even if that other person is almost exactly like one's self. Malice is the desire to hurt someone else, and envying not carries a connotation of being totally unconcerned about differences of any kind - of not being upset and angry in a way that causes someone to desire to cause another to suffer.

This ties directly to my point in one of the resolutions posts last month that someone who truly has learned to suffer long in kindness will not attempt to transfer his own suffering needlessly onto another. Developing that type of kindness for those with whom we are close is relatively easy compared to what "envying not" entails - extending that type of kindness to others, even those who cause the suffering we feel.

My final point this weekend is that "envying not" deals most purely with our outlook - our perspective - our vision - our thoughts concerning others. Our actions are secondary to this aspect of charity; they merely are the manifestation of whether or not we envy (look at other with malice and and evil eye). Certainly, the most obvious proof that we "envy not" is found in how we TREAT others - but it is found most fundamentally in the subtleties of how we SEE others (which is exhibited outwardly, I believe, most purely in how we SPEAK of others). Many people would never dream of harming others and causing them to suffer in direct, tangible ways - but many of these same people do not hesitate to speak maliciously of others and wish evil upon them.
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Thus, if I am to "be less envious" this month, I must decrease not only my actions that cause direct and obvious harm to others, but I also must decrease my words that wish harm on others - and decrease the "evil" thoughts that cause those words. "Being less envious" fundamentally is about changing the way I SEE and FEEL ABOUT people.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rant: Protestant Hypocrisy Regarding Prophets

It bugs me to no end to hear modern Christians ignore some of the teachings of early prophets like Peter and Paul, then turn around and bash Mormons for letting go of some of the early teachings of Joseph and Brigham. The hypocrisy is so thick it is amazing.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who claim Biblical inerrancy - who refuse to consider the possibility that earlier prophets and apostles might not have recorded the universal, literal word of God - and turn around and bash Mormons for “worshiping” Joseph (again, even though we have let go of quite a few of his earliest teachings). Again, the irony makes me gag.

The truest irony is that both of these groups claim we worship Joseph - even though, in practical terms, when these charges have any degree of legitimacy, we simply are treating him like these people treat the prophets of their own heritage - either too harshly or with too much honor.

Damned if you do; damned if you don’t - even though each extreme in Mormonism tends to be less extreme than its counterpart in Protestantism. Physician, heal thyself.

/End of rant. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

If Brigham and Orson Both Could Be Mormon, There Is a Place for ALL Who Believe, Despite Differences

The post I am linking is a new one - posted just yesterday.  I normally do not link to such new posts, but I beleve passionately in the concept it articulates and felt impressed to share it now.  I hope it resonates with and helps someone:


I am a Mormon - J. Stapley (By Common Consent) 

[Postscript: The comment thread is discouraging.  Feel free to skip it.]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Perhaps the Greatest Tightrope of Christianity

I see the teaching of grace as probably the greatest tightrope of Christianity.

On one hand, we need badly to recognize our reliance on God - and we encapsulate that in speaking of "the Atonement". On the other hand, we need badly to be motivated to act - since our "natural man" tends to push responsibility off of ourselves and onto others. How do we balance those competing needs?

I think grace vs. works is a fascinating example of the need for opposition in all things. Both of these concepts can be noble and ennobling; both, however, can be destructive and weakening. "Easy grace" (confess his name and don't worry about what you do) is abominable, but so is "all-consuming works" (wear yourself out and eventually God will accept your effort). Paul is correct in that the law doesn't save, but rather condemns - but then even he turns around and speaks of the need to do what Jesus did.

I don't think it's possible to preach grace or works in isolation and not end up with a destructive standard. I absolutely love James' statement that "faith without works is dead, being alone". It points to a properly balanced duality, if you will - a recognition that we have been freed by the grace of God, but that our freedom has been given to us in order to allow us not to believe or understand but to DO and BECOME. "The truth shall make you free" (to me) means that truly understanding the atonement really does free us to act - to do our best - to strive to change ourselves and our own sphere of influence - to become like he was - without constantly being torn apart by worry and guilt and crushing expectations.

Honestly, that's a fine line that will shift for each person, probably each day. Some are more inclined naturally to act; others are more inclined naturally to think and believe. The key, imo, is for each of us to look at ourselves, try to understand our strengths and weaknesses, commit to work on overcoming our weaknesses and building on our stengths - and continue that process until we die.

It's really hard to articulate that tension and that freedom, especially when the underlying doctrine of glory in our theology clearly states that practically everyone will be "saved" in some way. When we draw a distinction between "salvation" and "exaltation" (rightly so, imo), it is very easy to equate "grace" with "salvation" and "works" with "exaltation" - and, honestly, it's hard to argue too much with that essential differentiation. I believe we really do need to try our best, and I really do believe we are blessed and rewarded and "judged" (meaning assigned an outcome) based on what we become. I just believe we have been freed by the atonement/grace to pursue our best without all the angst and guilt and fear ad nauseum that we tend to heap on ourselves.

Even now, I don't know if I've articulated that very well, since it really is a difficult thing to speak of this type of balancing act, but I also have found the foundation for this richly complex balance explained best within Mormonism's core theology. I get frustrated a bit sometimes when we emphasize one extreme or another, but one of my strongest "testimonies", if you will, is that the vision Joseph Smith articulated in this regard is profound and empowering and astounding. The big picture is the biggest reason I have found peace - and the Church has been swinging back steadily over the last decade or so toward the balance I seek.

Monday, June 6, 2011

We Are Called to Be Fishers, Not Hunters

I believe perhaps our biggest failure in the Church is how we compartmentalize and stigmatize and speak about sharing our faith with others.

I don't like the term "missionary work" when it comes to normal members of the Church. In fact, I really dislike it, based on how it usually is discussed. It implies that all we need to do is "work" harder (with all the negatives that includes). I think it has led to efforts by many members to "figure out who is ready to hear the Gospel" - when we should be opening our mouths with all and believing they will be filled with whatever each individual needs to hear. We too often act as if we are hunters, trying to pinpoint that specific deer that we can bring down with a well-placed shot. I prefer to go back to Jesus' original invitation and act as a fisherman who casts his net and sees what fish swim within its reach.

I like "share the Gospel" better, but I like "share the Gospel by sharing your life" best. The Church and the Gospel are an integral part of who I am, so why shouldn't I talk about it in the normal flow of many conversations? Protestants of every stripe do it that, as do Buddhists and Muslims and all kinds of people. Not everything has to be a "missionary opportunity" - but almost everything deals with my faith and my religion. If I talk naturally about it without concerns about "converting" anyone, those who are touched will ask - and those who aren't won't. I truly believe, based on personal experience, that if I am open to be used, the Lord will put people in my path who want to learn more - but I have to be talking about my life and my faith for them to be touched.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

To Be Less Envious

My New Year's Resolution this month is taken from Alma 5:29 - to be less envious.  The actual verse reads:

Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.  

Obviously, if I am to be less envious at the end of this month than I am now, I need to understand exactly what that means.  I am planning on addressing various aspects of this verse throughout the month, but, as generally is the case with my resolutions, I turned to the dictionary first to see what "envy" actually means:


a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc. 
 
Based on this definition, it appears that being less envious involves being more content with my own life and avoiding assigning a value to that life (and individual elements of it) in comparison to others' lives.  It appears that envy is based on over-emphasizing those areas where I have less than someone else and under-appreciating those areas where I have sufficient for my own needs - or, in some cases, perhaps even more than someone else.  

What struck me is that envy seems to be a by-product of ingratitude - as well as the belief that my life would be better and I would be satisfied "if only" I had more (fill in the blank).  It is placing a need for comparative, outward success ahead of personal, inner contentment.  It appears to be a manifestation of an internal lack of peace - and indication that someone believes happiness and contentment and peace and assurance and self-worth are attainable through the acquisition of material things - or social status - or any other aspect of life that is measured in comparison to someone else.  

Finally, it hit me that envy can apply to anything in any area of our lives - including our church lives.  Someone can envy others whose children appear to be happier, more docile, more independent, more spiritual, more active, more whatever than mine - or a couple who both are active and believing, if one's spouse is not a member or is inactive - or a local leader simply because he or she is a leader - or a parent if someone is single or married with no children - or any other part of belonging to a community.  
 
Ironically, envy also might be manifested in surprising and counter-intuitive ways.  Someone with seven kids might envy someone else with two their apparent peace and simplicity of life; someone with lots of money who is never home might envy someone with much less money but more time to spend with family; etc.  Envy is personally defined, perhaps more than any other characteristic I have considered as a New Year's Resolution, so the biggest part of my resolution this month will be self-reflection and introspection to determine in what ways I truly am envious. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

We Need Leaders Who Are Acutely Aware of Their Shortcomings

Outgoing, confident people can find a supportive social network with people like themselves anywhere. Introverted and/or insecure people need a structure that functions around them and allows them to integrate slowly and passively fit in somewhere at first.

The irony of the church's totally non-professional local ministry structure is that the outgoing, confident people sometimes overwhelm the introverted and the insecure. It's a bit counter-intuitive, but the wards and branches that work the best generally are the ones that have leaders who are acutely aware of their shortcomings - the ones who often feel like they are on the verge of sinking every time they jump in the pool. We had a Relief Society President, for example, who was extraordinary - but one of the reasons she was so wonderful was that she knew she was nothing of herself. Her calling scared her nearly to death, but she accepted it, anyway.

Personally, I think that's the main reason why callings are shuffled regularly - to avoid the natural arrogance that arises when people finally feel like they "get it" and can perform their calling in their sleep. Not only does that provide opportunities for "unnatural" growth to the truly meek and humble who normally wouldn't be chosen as leaders, but it shortens the harmful period that inevitably occurs for some members when there is a personality conflict with a leader whose personality is opposite of their own.

I appreciate the words of newly called apostles, since they invariably speak sincerely of being overwhelmed by their new calling.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Brilliant Article: "I Don't Have a Testmony of the History of the LDS Church."

I Don't Have a Testimony of the History of the Church - Davis Bitton (FAIR)

This article is brilliant in the way it delineates the difference between the LDS Church, prophets, history, revelation, and the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think it should be read by every member in the world - and everyone else who has a sincere interest in the LDS Church.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sexual Sins Are NOT Next to Murder

I think the whole "sexual sins are next to murder" idea is a flawed interpretation of the passage in Alma from which the idea is taken.  I believe sexual sins are serious - and many of them are extremely serious, but, as a general, all-encompassing category or in every particular instance, I believe they are not next to murder as the third most serious sins possible to commit.  (The first is denying the Holy Ghost.) 


This is what Alma 39: 2-5,13 actually says, with my own bolding for emphasis:
2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
13 . . . that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly . . .
So, Corinaton did all of the following:

A) Boasted in his own strength, thus denying God and God's place in his ministry (seriously not good - of the highest order, almost);

B) Forsook his ministry (seriously not good - right up there in seriousness);

C) Consorted with a harlot - while serving as a missionary (seriously not good - pretty high up on the list of sexual sins, given his calling at the time);

D) Led others away from the Church of his father and caused them to sin and "do wickedly" (seriously not good).
Alma 
Alma said, "THESE things are an abomination" - not "THIS thing".    

[It is important to note that, as far as we know, the "worst" sexual sin Corianton probably committed was "fornication" - since we have no indication that he was married at the time of the mission in question.  He might have been, but that is not specified anywhere in the account.  Further, since all we actually have in the record is that he went after a harlot, we don't even know for sure that he committed fornication.  Also, Jesus is quoted as having taught that the abuse of children is so serious that it would be better for an abuser to have never been born than to commit such a sin.  Finally, in our own day, there is a clear distinction made between the "seriousness" of fornication and of adultery - so it's not even fair to say that Corianton was guilty of the "worst" sexual sin in the account recorded in Alma 39.]  

Remember, this is Alma the Younger - someone who would know exactly how abominable it is to actively lead others away from God  He was racked with the pains of Hell for three days over very similar actions - at least in his own eyes, I'm sure. 

In fact, as Andy pointed out in one of the comments on this thread, Alma 36:14 explains how Alma felt about his own actions:

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

I don't believe it was sexual sin that Alma labeled as next to murder; I think it was the entire enormity of the multiple things Corianton had done - that was close to spiritual murder, in a very real way, in his father's eyes.  I believe Alma carried a degree of guilt over his youthful actions to his grave, based on other passages in his writings, and I think it tore him up inside to see one of his sons straying onto the same path he had walked in his youth.  

I think that is critical, and it gets overlooked when most people read the account without parsing the actual words carefully.