Saturday, May 12, 2018

This Life Is Meant to Be a Kingdom, Not Just a Cross

A belief in the afterlife can have negative effects. Some people seem to disengage from this life, banking on a promised post-mortal future to bring peace and happiness. They don't enjoy this life or attempt to make a real difference in the lives of others, because they don't see this life as anything more than a temporary test. Many of these people are instantly recognizable in church because they speak about "the world" as being an outside entity against which they are pitted in battle for their very souls. These are people clinging, white-knuckled, to the tightrope of life just inching along from one side to the other. They see the platform on the far side of the rope and that is all they see. Mortally afraid of falling, they never risk loosening their grip, and if they do slip, even a little, they are nearly paralyzed by fear that they will never reach the safety of the platform. Theirs is a constricting life. 
This view of heaven, as an escape, is a miserable degradation of what the Gospel actually teaches. The gospel is Kingdom and Cross. In other words, it isn't just about salvation from eternal hell (Cross) but about building a life now that's worth living forever (Kingdom). We are supposed to be fashioning a new garden in this lone and dreary waste. It's the sweat of our brow and the struggle to bring new life to this place that we are charged with. In this kind of gospel-centered life, the walk across the tightrope becomes a divine dance through the air. The platform on the other side, just like the platform from which we stepped out into the spotlight, is not a goal to be reached by the timid but an anchor whose existence is essential in creating the space where the most brilliant performances play out. 
This is not to suggest that I don't believe in post-mortal existence. I do. But I don't believe it's an "after" life.
It's just life.
The continuation of our divine dance.

Friday, February 2, 2018

My Own Bucket List

I loved the movie, "The Bucket List." I had seen it one time previously, but it was better the second time, since I knew what was going to happen and could focus on the smaller details I missed the first time I watched it. It also allowed me to consider thoughts and conceptual things that struck me for the first time, and those insights were powerful for me.
The first epiphany was something quite simple. The very concept of a bucket list is a product of relative privilege and luxury. People who can consider a true "bucket list" (things they have reason to believe they might be able to do, as opposed to things they simply wish they could do in an ideal world) are able to do so due to some kind of privilege or luxury from their current and previous lives. Financial considerations are the best example of this disparity, since more concrete, objective goals often have an accompanying price tag, while poorer people usually are forced to focus on things that are more conceptual or subjective. In fact, many people don't have the luxury of even considering the concept of a bucket list, since all their energy must be focused on nothing more than survival. 
For example, in the movie, Edward’s list was about seeing the world, which was possible only because he was abnormally rich. It included, “Go on a safari,” “Visit Stonehenge,” “Sit on the Great Egyptian pyramids,” and “Drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China.” Conversely, Carter’s list was full of things like, “Kiss the most beautiful girl in the world,” “Witness something truly majestic,” “Laugh until you cry,” and “Find the joy in your life.” The differences in their buckets lists could be explained as nothing more than their individual personalities and perspectives, but it is not adequate to ignore the impact of financial success and security on those personalities and perspectives. Edward was able to record practical goals that were expensive to accomplish specifically and exclusively because he had the money to make them happen, while Carter was constrained by his limited resources to goals that were not attached in any way to financial cost and which were far more subjective.
The second thought was much more personal and enlightening. My own father would fit Carter’s character almost completely. Except for the element of race, which was a legitimate, major contributing factor for Carter, my father’s life mirrored Carter’s in nearly every way. My father gave up his professional dreams to marry my mother, then he did it again, 14 years later, to give her the support she needed to deal productively with her schizophrenia. He had eight children, specifically because my mother wanted as many kids as possible, even though he knew it would increase his responsibilities exponentially. He intentionally moved from financial security to serious poverty for his wife’s sake, and, as a result, he changed irrevocably the content of what he would have included on a bucket list.
In fact, even more fundamentally, he gave up the notion of creating a bucket list and made his own life his bucket list. He lived specifically and intentionally for his wife and children, giving up nearly all aspects of pure, undiluted individuality in the process. Watching this movie reminded me that I have come to read one particular Biblical verse differently as a result of coming to understand my father's sacrifice: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
This verse doesn’t say that he "die" for this friends; rather, it says that he "lay down his life" for his friends.” There is an important difference between those two phrases. Just as Jesus, of Nazareth, set aside whatever life he had created prior to the age of 30 to begin his ministry to the people of his area, my father set aside the life he envisioned, twice, to begin his own personal ministry to his wife.
I see that same example in Carter. He lived his life for his wife and family, and he lost himself in a real and practical way. Edward offered him a chance to focus on himself again, and, initially, Carter accepted that offer. Eventually, however, he realized that the life he had established was more important than a practical, tangible, measurable list of dreams – as much as he enjoyed living those dreams. Edward didn’t improve Carter’s life in any way, ultimately, except in helping him regain the joy of his former life of self-sacrifice and service.
Meanwhile, Carter literally changed Edward’s life. The things on Edward’s bucket list that matter the most in the end were the things Carter had added, especially, “Find the joy in your life.” That joy wasn’t in the grandiose, fancy, and expensive; it was in the personal, intimate, and costless gift of his daughter and granddaughter.

That is my takeaway from this movie. Bucket lists are enticing, and, for those who can afford to fulfill them, they can be enjoyable and fulfilling to a degree. However, the most meaningful bucket lists are what people live as a direct result of their normal, daily, steady lives. I have chosen a life path that probably will not afford me the temptation to create a bucket list like Edwards, even if only in theory and not actual cost, but that chosen path has given me a multitude of experiences like Carter’s bucket list. Perhaps more than anything in my life, I am grateful for that particular way in which I am my father’s son.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Need for Charity: We Aren't as Smart as We Think We Are

A friend of mine recently said something truly profound about our tendency to judge others:

Whether they are religious or not, conservative or liberal, no matter their race, sex, or orientation, human beings have a very strong tendency to think that their own perspectives are the clearest, that their ideas are the most rational, and that their values are the most enlightened.  Anyone who disagrees, on the other hand, is easily seen as deficient... because after all, if my viewpoint is the right one then everyone who doesn't agree with me is wrong, by definition.  
Yet, in our world, which is overflowing with people who all think themselves smarter than their neighbors, people still don't know who has the right of way at a traffic circle, they lose their keys frequently, forget important dates and appointments, and constantly butt-dial each other.   
In other words, we aren't all as omniscient as we think we are, and a little bit of allowing others to have opinions that differ from our own without having to psychoanalyze the other person would probably be a good thing.

Friday, April 14, 2017

On Forgiveness: Two Important Things

Two thoughts on forgiveness this Easter weekend: 
1) We only can forgive those who have hurt us. We have no right to claim we forgive anyone who has not hurt us. That is a mockery of the difficulty of forgiveness for those who actually have suffered. 
2) We are commanded to forgive everyone who has hurt us in any way - but there is nothing in that statement that requires we forget. Those are two different things. Forgiving when we can't forget is a deeper form of forgiveness than when we can forget - and, sometimes, forgetting is neither healthy nor appropriate, since it can feed continued hurt by the unrepentant.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

We Are More than Just Children of a King

A friend of mine said the following today, in reference to common statements about being children of a King: 
When the Israelites in the meridian of time looked for the Messiah they looked for him to come in glory with conquering armies. He came instead as the child of a carpenter born in the most humble of circumstances.  
Are we not children of the Good Shepherd? Are we not children of the Master Healer? Are we not children of the patient teacher? Are we not the children of the "Servant of all"? 
May we follow in those footsteps as well.
Amen - and amen.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Being Nothing without Charity and "Being Worthy": How We Miss the Mark

I interpret the idea that we are nothing without charity as being a refutation of the natural tendency to value things and create measurements that make us feel better than others. So many other things we tend to value highly separate us from others by elevating us above them and making us worth more (or, interestingly, "more worthy"); charity levels the field and truly sets us as equal in worth.

Someone publicly gives away lots of money out of extreme narcicism? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone prophesies constantly but does nothing to give actual help to those who need help? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone gives phenomenal talks in church, full of poetic and inspiring imagery, but is a selfish jerk otherwise? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone serves their entire adult life in highly visible church callings but looks down on everyone else due to their pride? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else.

Love as the foundation of all else (the glue holding everything else together) is something I like, so I am okay with statements that say everything else falls apart or crashes to the ground without that foundation. ("on this hang all the law and the prophets")

It helps that I view it as a process, not an event - a pathway, not a destination - an issue of effort, not full accomplishment. It's not that I need to be perfectly charitable right now or I'm worthless, but rather that I value charity above everything else and am trying to be charitable.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Beautiful Explanation of Not Judging Others

A friend of mine shared the following, and I want to share it here. It is one of the most beautiful explanations of the theological reason we should not judge others I have ever heard.
Background: When I was a young child, someone harmed me in a terrible way. To date I have never harbored anger towards this person. Part of that comes from the fact that it never occurred to me to BE angry. Another part is that I can look at this person's life now and see what a sad condition it is in. I pray for this person's safety. I pray for happiness.

Every Psych book says that I should be in counseling. I should be going through 12 steps. I should be in bad shape. Everyone says that I have the right to be angry. I should demand justice. And, I guess in some ways I certainly could seek justice and I could be angry. I'm justified in doing so, right?
But I am not and it isn't even a dilemma on my part. I have forgiven this person.

So, now we think, "Okay, they'll be punished in the hereafter."


But, here is how I picture judgement day (sort of):

Say we are at the bar of judgement, and those whom we have harmed are allowed to come and air grievances. Maybe they can petition the court to punish us. Perhaps we are reminded of those wrongs before our accusers show know, to prepare our case.  Either way, let's say that we can see the court docket, and when we see someone who wronged us, we can show up at the appointed time and ask for justice.

If this scenario is correct, I will not be found pressing charges against the person who harmed me. In fact, I may show up as a character witness to point out the good things and charitable acts that I've witnessed from this person. Maybe I'll not even mention the harm done to me. Of course, this person will have other "crimes" that will be brought up in court, but I won't be an accuser.

Now, when it's my turn at the bar to be judged, I sure hope that the people whom I've harmed choose not to "press charges" against me either.  
So, I guess I see the Savior act in a similar way that He did when the woman taken in adultery was brought before him. He was asked to be a judge in that situation. At some point, He asked the woman where her accusers were. There were none...for that crime.
Maybe He was then an advocate and encouraged her to change her ways.

When our time comes, may we not have accusers either.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Yes, We Are Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keepers

Remember: It was Cain (a murderer) who replied to God, when asked where Abel was, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  
There are hundreds of verses and passages throughout the Bible (and other religious texts) that say, quite explicitly, that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers in some way and to some extent. 
It is the determination of the way and the extent where there can be reasonable discussion and disagreement. (For Mormons, however, King Benjamin's sermon sets an incredibly high bar for refusal.) For Christians to deny their responsibility to help "keep" God's children (any of them), at all or minimally, however, is a direct denial of the ministry and teachings of Jesus, of Nazareth. 
Quoting Cain in doing so is the height of irony.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Does the Sacrament Prayer Really Say: Not What We Often Teach

[quote="squarepeg"]The Sacrament Prayer says that we will always have His spirit to be with us if we take His name upon us, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. Maybe that's an easy one to write off as impossible since I definitely don't remember Him always. Sometimes I'm just thinking about something else and not of Him, because if I thought of Him all the time, I couldn't focus to help my kids with their math, couldn't get through the grocery checkout, couldn't make phone calls to the health insurance company about confusing bills, etc. And I break commandments all the time, every day, in spite of my best efforts to keep them. I also developed an allergy to wheat and can't take the Sacrament bread at all anymore. But I actually don't know of anyone who can keep the promises we make when we take the Sacrament, so maybe none of us is entitled to the attached blessings, either?[/quote]

Is that really what the prayers say? Are there "ifs" in there? I read it like this (emphasis added):

We usually talk about the Sacrament prayer as an if/then statement. For example, with regard to the bread:

IF we remember Jesus' body - and IF we are willing to take his name upon us - and IF we always remember him - and IF we keep his commandments - THEN we will always have his Spirit to be with us.

However, that is not what the words actually say, in and of themselves.

Here is the prayer in its entirety, with some holding for emphasis:

"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it,

- that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father,
- that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,
- (that they) always remember him
- and (that they) keep his commandments which he has given them;
- that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

We make NO promises in those words, and neither does the priest. The  priest asks God to bless the bread (or water as the case may be, recognizing the wording is slightly different but essentially the same) to ALL THOSE who partake of it (no worthiness standard implied) that four things we are willing to do and receive will happen: 

1) we eat in remembrance of the body (or blood) of the Son;
2) we are willing to take the name of the Son;
3) we always remember him;
4) we may have the Spirit to be with us.

Again, nowhere do those partaking promise to do anything; rather, the priest asks the Father to bless everyone who partakes with a special blessing because of what they are willing to do - regardless of whether or not they do this even things.

I know that is not the view of the mainstream, but it is a literal interpretation of the words themselves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jesus as Advocate and Judge - and We as Advocates Only

We had a wonderful lesson in our High Priests Group, and I want to share one particular insight I had near the end of the lesson:

We talk about Jesus as the Judge, but I like another title better: Advocate with the Father. I like the framing of Jesus representing us at the judgment seat of the Father - being our advocate (defender) for mercy, with the Father being the actual Judge. I like it conceptually, but I also like the practical application that hit me on Sunday.

When we take his name upon us, we are NOT assuming his post-mortal responsibilities, including that of Judge. In fact, we are told explicitly not to judge (with a result that we won't be judged ourselves). Rather, we are accepting a place in his mortal ministry. We are doing for others what he did for them during his life and through his death. We are promising to recognize their inherent value as children of God and advocate for them. We can't do that unless we refrain from judging them, strive to understand them, and look for justifications to defend them.

In our current system, the ONLY conflict is for Bishops, since they are called Judges in Israel. However, even they can start with their responsibility to be Advocates, and then, and only then, move on to acting as Judges. This approach, if understood and followed, would result in judges and judgments that are as merciful, gracious, and loving as possible - based on understanding WHY people did what they did and not just WHAT they did. If this was our default orientation (being an advocate/defender), much of the problem we have with overzealous, Pharisaical, strict exactness and our sometimes exclusive obsession with worthiness would disappear.

I still am working out my full thoughts on this epiphany, but I wanted to share the initial impression with all of you here.