Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Reason for My Resolution

The following is the genesis for my New Year's Resolution this past year - and the New Year's Resolution that will post tomorrow for 2009. In order to re-introduce the rationale behind my effort to those who were not here last December to read it, I am re-posting it today:
OK, the title (The Problem with the Popular Perception of Perfection) is intentionally over-the-top alliteration, but it accurately reflects one of the biggest problems of the apostasy - and, I believe, one of the greatest obstacles in understanding the heart of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The great commandment "in the law" is, in summary, "Love God and everyone else." However, the great culmination of Christ's penultimate sermon (The Sermon on the Mount) is a powerful commandment outside the law - and, in a very real way, is the practical application of the command to love. This foundational command is contained in Matthew 5:48: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which art in Heaven is perfect."

Apostate Christianity has addressed this commandment in two ways: 1) by applying a legalistic meaning ("never make a mistake/commit a sin") and, based on the impossibility of that definition, 2) turning it into a suggestion - something one cannot hope to achieve but a nice platitude regardless. ("Try not to make mistakes/sin, but realize it doesn't really matter in the long run.") While this sounds fine - and even laudable - to most people, it totally destroys the power and beauty of the command itself. It is my conviction that someone simply cannot understand the atonement (and the full grace that makes "atonement" possible) if they accept and internalize this apostate definition of perfection.

The footnotes to Matthew 5:48 make a critical definition distinction - one that changes the entire meaning and empowers the command in an amazing way. Footnote (b), which is attached to the word "perfect", defines it from the Greek thus: "complete, finished, fully developed." This means that the verse can be read as follows:

"Be ye therefore complete, finished, fully developed, even as your Father which art in heaven is complete, finished, fully developed." What an amazing difference!

I am planning on delving further into the practical application of this principle in future posts, since I don't want this one to be a novella all by itself, but suffice it to say here that this definition changes fundamentally how our quest for perfection should be understood and approached - and, at the most basic level, lies at the heart of nearly every aspect of the atonement (grace, repentance, faith, works/fruits and, perhaps most importantly for many - especially women - guilt, shame and spiritual/emotional freedom).

If you take nothing from this post but one message, take the fact that you do NOT need to feel ashamed and guilty and overwhelmed by your "incomplete, unfinished, partially developed" state. The world teaches that such a state is irreconcilable with God; Matthew 5:48 says otherwise - saying it can be done - and the practical way to do so is provided, as well.

That practical process is what I will address in upcoming posts about my New Year's Resolution for the upcoming year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Worshiping Among the Spirits

I believe that the temple structure of vicarious work is meant in part to pay homage to the dead (to recognize and honor every child of God, no matter their worldly significance) and to keep us connected to our ancestors and all of humanity in a way that prevents us from adopting a social evolutionist’s natural arrogance. ("Each succeeding generation is better and smarter than the last.") I also believe that the temple is our own version of the Buddhist shrines in individual houses - our own way to include our ancestors in the greatest blessings of our lives. There we worship among the spirits of our kindred dead.

We visit the graves where their physical bodies were buried, but we also visit a place where we believe their living spirits can see us and attend us and sometimes communicate with us. It is our way of saying, “We have not forgotten you, and we will not let go." I have not experienced open communication often, but I have experienced it on occasion - and there is nothing more sublime and intimate.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Recreating the Christmas of My Youth

Dane, comment #1 on Picard and Bergson on Christmas - Stephen P. (By Common Consent)

“It was the kind of Christmas I can’t seem to capture today. Or do I?”

I’ve struggled with that since my mission, trying to understand why I can’t seem to recreate the sense of Christmas from my youth.

The best answer I’ve found so far is that freedom from responsibility is essential to the “Christmas feeling”. It’s knowing that everything is alright, no one is expecting anything of you, and that if you take a few hours (or days) to sit and read a good book, the world won’t fall apart.

Other people’s Christmas experiences are different from mine (I guess that addresses your words on Bergson), but I believe that peace and freedom from stress are what made Christmas special for me as a child, and what I, as a husband and parent, find much harder to create.


May we recognize our dependence on Him whose birth we celebrate this day and allow that realization to grant us the peace and freedom from stress we used to feel as children. May we celebrate his childhood by rediscovering ours and putting away the stressful counterfeit that the world has built around our childhood celebrations. Our adult responsibilities need not rob us of the magic and wonder of this day, but it requires a conscious decision not present in the days of our youth. Then we simply could experience it; now we must "recreate" it in our own unique circumstances - whether that be surrounded by family or alone.

MERRY CHRISTMAS, one and all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Christmas Wish

My highest wish for all of my kids (including those who were born outside our biological family) is that they remember who they are collectively and learn who they are individually - that they think for themselves - that they be happy with who they are but be willing to let go of who they don't want to be (even if they never accomplish that fully in this life) - that they come to know their Father and His Son - that they come to understand "the grace that so fully He proffers" them - that they see repentance not as a burden of guilt but rather as an exciting process of growth and completion and discovery - that they become truly peculiar treasures, together and alone - that they find that certain someone without whom they will never be perfect (complete and whole) - and that, with that certain someone, they carve out lives that will satisfy and challenge and reward and fulfill and complete.

My wish is that this madhouse our kids' friends call The Hotel will be able to accommodate boarders eternally, even if in both the here and now and the hereafter that simply means a moment here and there as we watch our children establish homes (and perhaps hotels) of their own. If I see this wish fulfilled, I will live and die and live again happily - even if nothing else I desire comes to pass. If they can be as happy as I am, living as half of an eternal whole, I will praise God eternally for the love He has allowed me to experience and the joy He has given me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

My Dream: A Collective Mighty Change of Heart

I would feel like I had died and gone to heaven if every member in my ward and stake openly and sincerely invited everyone they knew to sit with us as we worship in Sacrament Meeting simply because they love them and want to share our worship with them - no other strings attached.

I would love to see our chapels packed to overflowing during Sacrament Meeting, even if many of the attendees left the building and didn't stay for the other two hours - because they weren't interested in the instruction that occurs in those meetings.

I would love to sit with a gay friend and his partner and their daughter, to smell cigarette smoke residue in the pew behind me, to wave to the girl in the tank top in the back, to see what tattoo or earring the man in front of me had added the previous week, to be surrounded by every shade of skin imaginable, etc - even if I had to wish them a blessed week after Sacrament Meeting ended, and even if I had no realistic hope in them ever being baptized and joining the Church.

In all seriousness, I believe that if we lived the true heart of the Gospel better, these friends would be among us - especially if our efforts to share the spirit of our worship were not tied to "conversion" but were focused more on simple friendship and fellowship - on the joy and spirit and peace of our worship. I think many would accept the occasional talk about the Law of Chastity or the Word of Wisdom or Modesty in Dress, if it wasn't directed in a judgmental way at them and their lifestyle - if they knew our standards didn't change our love for them. (I realize many would not accept it, but I believe many would.)

I have no problem telling the missionaries to stay away from a friend who comes to church with me, if that is what that friend wants. What matters to me is that my friend is there with me.

Of course, I want that friend to accept the Gospel, be baptized and receive the blessings of the Gospel that enrich my life - but that's not a condition of my invitation to worship with me. I wish with all my heart that we could open our arms and embrace anyone who walked through our chapel doors, sincerely and lovingly and unconditionally - and that we brought more diverse people with us through those doors. I don't think we have to compromise our doctrinal standards to do so, but we certainly have to experience a collective mighty change of heart.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Not Being "of All Men Most Miserable"

I like to think of faith as the motivation behind our actions - the hope that drives us to do things that otherwise might be illogical or indefensible. When someone asks about why faith is important, I share something like the following:

Faith is critical, because we act according to our beliefs and hopes - and many of our actions are based on the belief (hope) that they will be worth it somehow, even as we can't see exactly how they will be worth it. We can't see the end, but we believe (hope) it will be worth taking action now. Take away the basic concept of faith (removing the religious connotations), and you essentially destroy the motivation for selflessness and sacrifice and service - and society, to a large degree, hinges substantially on selflessness.
On (this) hang all the law and the prophets” was said about love, but underlying love is the asusmption (the faith) that love is a good thing - that acting and sacrificing because of love is worth it in the end. Not seeing the end, that belief is faith.

For example, I know we never would have taken in troubled kids if we didn’t believe our efforts would help them (or, at least, one of them) somehow, somewhere, sometime - since we experienced difficulty and pain along the way. Without that “faith” (the hope in something we couldn't see), those kids still would be living in their own private Hell.

Faith, at its most basic level, has to exist in this world, imo, or life simply isn’t worth living. Those who feel life simply isn’t worth the end result (who have no faith/hope in the outcome, whatever that might be) “are of all (wo)men most miserable”.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Two Halves Make a Whole

I met my wife 26 1/2 years ago this past Sunday - June 14, 1982. I was 16; she was 15. I felt that she was my "split-apart" within two days of meeting her - and that was something I never expected or believed could happen. It was exactly like re-establishing a relationship with a best friend you haven't seen for years. I knew within a week that I would marry her - no doubts whatsoever. Once she turned 16, I never dated anyone else. We were engaged prior to my mission and her senior year in high school - and I mean a real engagement with an actual engagement ring. We married less than 2 months after I returned from Japan - 22 years ago today.


We have never fought - truly fought; we have never yelled at each other; we have disagreed and had to work through disappointment and hurt feelings, but there hasn't been one moment in the last 22 years when I questioned whether or not we would be together forever - whether or not I wanted to stay with her - whether or not our marriage was the right decision.

Literally, she is the half that makes me whole. We the heaven I aspire to achieve.

I posted something months ago - one of the first posts on my then new blog. If you want to read the entire thing, here is the link. (Sleep is Over-Rated) The most relevant paragraph for this thread is the following:

Eternal marriage and family mean just a little more to me at this moment, since I have caught a tiny glimpse of isolated immortality, living as half the whole she and I are meant to be. If I can’t handle each night we are apart, I can’t fathom living endlessly without her – feeling alone in a vast cosmos – sleeping in a great and spacious hotel – forever, fitfully alone. I want to live on with my arm around her – in a universe surrounded by our children – even if that means I only get a little edge of it as my own and never get enough sleep.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We Don't Know, 'Cause It Don't Say

Book of Mormon Geography - Ardis Parshall, quoting George Q. Cannon (Keepapitchinin)

Monday, December 15, 2008

I Smile Whenever They Look My Way

My father told me as a teenager that, one way or another, it was my responsibility to learn something in each and every sacrament meeting. I have taken that admonition very seriously over the years, but with a slight twist to help make it happen.

I listen carefully and intently to the first couple of minutes of every single adult talk. If I am not getting fed by the speaker, I let my mind wander and pray that the Holy Ghost will feed me instead. This approach rarely has failed me.

I approach youth talks differently. I pay attention to the youth speakers for their entire talks. I smile whenever they look my way. No matter what is being said, I do my best to do whatever I can to help inexperienced, scared young men and young women feel like what they are saying is important - and that, by extension, they are important. I have worked too long with teenagers to give them anything less than that.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I Simply Am a Mormon

In every objectively measurable way, I am a rock-solid Mormon. Those who know me and hear me speak often identify me as a conservative member. They see my current and past callings, my large family, my occupational choices, etc. and make an assumption based on what they observe.

Based on that visual assumption, I get away with teaching much of what is called "liberal" in some meetings without being called "liberal" by my fellow ward and stake members. That absolutely fascinates me. I personally hate these labels, since they almost never capture the full picture for individual members, tend to separate instead of unify and cause argument and contention where none is needed or helpful or uplifting. That saddens me more than I can express here.

How you or I understand our religion is a matter with which you and I need to struggle individually. As for me, I choose simply to judge not, that I be not judged. Even though I disagree adamantly with many people's answers, I have no problem accepting anyone who agrees with them as a believing, faithful Mormon.

So, for the record, I am both a conservative Mormon AND a liberal Mormon - according to how others view my statements and beliefs. To me, I simply am a Mormon.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sharing the Gospel: Sharing Our Stories

There is a new blog that is dedicated to recording special experiences with sharing the Gospel - from both those who have shared and those with whom it has been shared (including personal conversion stories). My hope is that it will become a repository of wonderful experiences - a place where anyone can read of the power of the Gospel as it is shared with ourselves and others.

Please, anyone who reads this post, click on the link below and check it out. Under "Purpose of This Blog", there is an e-mail address to which all stories can be sent. When I receive stories, I will schedule them - and send the author an e-mail letting him or her know when it will post.

Also, for those of you with your own sites, if you like what you see and agree with the vision it embodies, I would appreciate any help in publicizing this blog you can provide. The blog is:

Sharing the Gospel: Personal Stories

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Losing (the Church of) My Youth

I was raised in a small town in central Utah, and many of the sprawling orchards of my youth are now cookie-cutter subdivisions. I used to walk to my grandparents' house on Saturday - including 5 miles where I passed about a dozen houses. I visited a couple of years ago, and the distance walking among the trees and farmland has shrunk to less than half of what I once enjoyed. Some of my parents' neighbors have moved further west to "get back to the country." My four-ward town now has two bulging stakes. I used to know every kid near my age in town - quite well; my brother's and cousins' children now know fewer kids their age than I did - in a town over five times the size.

In many ways, I've lost my hometown - at least the town of my memories. I understand intellectually why it happened, but my heart never will accept it fully. I probably will never be back to live there, but I miss its simplicity, nonetheless.

In the same way, over the years I have lost the church of my childhood. There was a time when it all was easy - black and white - so clear and unambiguous. There was a time I saw "as a child" - and I loved and am grateful for that time of innocence.

Now, however, I have grown and put aside childish things. The church of my youth might not exist for me anymore, but I wouldn't go back to it. The church of my adulthood is messy and nuanced and baffling and frustrating at times, but it also is inspiring and challenging and growth-inducing and joyful. I glory in it, and I find glory in it (even amid the occasional goriness of it) - and I wouldn't go back to the church of my childhood. I am at home in the Church I know and love now, and anyone who has seen my house will tell you I don't mind the messiness as long as I have the love and growth and joy (and challenges) I experience in it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Communal At-One-Ment

I gave a talk a while ago in which I spoke about guilt caused by expectations based on incorrect perceptions of others' righteousness. I talked, with permission, of those who see my children sitting quietly in Sacrament Meeting but don't see the battles in our home. I mentioned how hard it is for me to remember to pray each day vocally. My wife and I both have rather prominent callings, so it surprised some people, but it would have surprised more people if I hadn't shared similar things in private conversations and other group discussions.

This is going to sound really weird, but the whole struggle to find a proper balance between public vulnerability and private confession - between trying to live an ideal but recognizing and accepting our inability to do so - all of these things that are emotionally difficult - form the basis of one of the reasons I love the Restored Gospel so much.

The Atonement was not an easy accomplishment. It took sweat and blood and tears - at an incomprehensible level - and, I believe, covers millions of years. Accepting and embracing it fully (and its accompanying responsibilities) also is not an easy accomplishment. It also requires blood (sometimes) and sweat and tears, and it requires introspection and repentance and service and sacrifice. Finally, it can't be forced or coerced; it has to be attempted from an internal motivation that perseveres even in the absence of communal support - even though it flourishes best in an atmosphere of communal support. It requires we yearn for community (communal unity) and strive for community but don't condemn each other for our failure to achieve true community. It means I need to be willing to bare my soul and hope others join me, but not condemn or judge them if they don't.

It's complicated and profound and beautiful and painful - just like the Atonement itself was.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Love of My Life

Happy Birthday, Babe!

I love you now more than when we met over 26 years ago - more than when we were married almost 22 years ago - more than yesterday.

If eternity is like the last 26 years (full of ever-increasing love), I will be the most blessed man in it - because I will be with you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Foundation of Joy

One of the reasons I loved my mission so much was that both of my Mission Presidents emphasized what I already believed about the purpose of a mission – both what it means to be a missionary and how that should direct missionary effort.

The foundation: I have believed a basic concept for as long as I can remember thinking about it. I have believed it from a very early age – even before I remember hearing anyone else articulate it. I finally found the perfect, concise expression of it in the following expression: "People do not believe what they see; they see what they believe."

The missionary application: I approached my mission as an attempt to find people who would accept our version of the Gospel when they heard it (who could catch a glimpse of the vision when it was presented to them) – or, I should say, who would not reject it when they began to hear it and refuse the chance to begin to see it. It wasn't my job to try to convince them intellectually, but rather to touch them spiritually.

Some people I met said, upon hearing various things we believe, "That's crazy. You're nuts. Mormonism really is a cult if you can believe that stuff." Some said, "Say what? Whatever. I just don't get it." Others said, "I don't get it, but I’d like to hear more." Finally, a few said, "That's exactly what I've always thought/felt!" Given what little time I had, my job wasn't to convince the first two groups, but rather to find and encourage the latter two groups – to help them feel the motivating influence of the Holy Ghost. That perspective led me to say, in essence, to everyone, "Follow what you feel – not what you think about it at first. Try it; you'll like it." If someone responded with strong negativity, my response basically was, "OK. I'll find someone else." They almost always spent more time and energy trying to convince me that I was wrong than I did trying to "convert" them. I was looking for a particular type of person - someone who was looking, first and foremost, for joy – either joy they lacked or more joy than they felt at the time. As I had experienced myself, once they found a core Gospel perspective that produced the joy they were seeking, they were able to wrap their minds around the theological and doctrinal details – the other “intellectual” stuff.

The choice: I believe you can tell more about people (both inside and outside the Church) by how they deal with the joy others find outside their own organization (or with differing perspectives that bring joy inside their own organization) than perhaps by any other criterion. One type of person lacks internal joy, constantly finds fault with the joy of others and actively seeks to undercut that joy; another type is secure in his joy and not interested in the differing joy of others; the final type accepts and embraces the idea that others have their own degree of joy - and tries to add to it (and, through it, add to their own joy) whenever possible. I don’t want to argue with the healthy and happy; I want to learn from them. I want to spend just as much of my time administering joy to the sick and searching.

The blogging observation: When I entered the world of blogging, I was struck immediately by two competing forms of discussion: the vast majority of those who participate in the blogs I frequent are sincerely searching for greater understanding and increased joy. Some of them, however, seem to be stuck in a cycle of trying to understand something intellectually before they can accept it spiritually. They seem to be saying, "I will accept this once I can understand it," rather than, "This brings me joy, so I will accept it and do my best to understand it - even if that means my understanding changes periodically, or regularly, or constantly over a long period of time." They say, "My heart wants to accept this, but my mind keeps me from accepting it," rather than, "My heart accepts this, so I will exercise my mind diligently to try to understand what I have accepted - knowing that that process might not end completely in this life, but I will continue to accept it regardless, because it brings me joy."

The personal observation: I am joyful because I have chosen an outlook that brings me joy; I am at peace because I made the conscious choice from among many options. This peace and joy are not primarily intellectual. I still must exercise my mind constantly in order to understand and reconcile the issues with which I am faced daily, and I love to read the nuanced, intelligent and insightful perspectives of others, but I do so from the foundation of belief. I hear someone (anyone - inside or outside the Church) say something, and my first thought is not, “I don’t get it; it must be wrong,” but rather “How can I understand this in a way that is consistent with my understanding of the Gospel – in a way that will add to my joy?” In all seriousness, that approach has not let me down yet - particularly since I am willing to suspend disbelief when I'm not getting anywhere and revisit the issue when my mind has had time to rest and recuperate. Sometimes, what I consider to be a "full" understanding (meaning as close as I believe I will ever get to knowing fully) has taken years to achieve, and there are some questions that still sit on a shelf untouched for a time while I refine my understanding of others. I'm fine with that.

The question: Why is this? The answer: I know I am able to construct just about any intellectual justification I desire that will warrant just about any theological / philosophical / doctrinal construct I choose to accept. Given my ability to adapt a solid intellectual argument for whatever I desire to believe, I exercise my agency by focusing on what I desire to believe – what my heart and soul tells me it wants to believe - what brings me joy. I consider the options and make my choice. Again, since my brain is capable of justifying whatever choice I make, I pick my course (what kind of life I want to live), then I construct / adopt / assimilate the perspective that I feel will lead best to the end of that course.

The result: The only intellectual restriction I place on my mind is that whatever I devise must be consistent with the over-arching and under-pinning principles I hold central to my understanding of joy - in my terminology, the core principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as I understand them. I have been accused of engaging in mental gymnastics, but I believe life is, in very real and powerful ways, an obstacle course. I believe everyone plays within their own gymnasium or on their own steeple chase course (jumps through their own intellectual hurdles - or stops and refuses to surmount them) in ways that look odd to others whose conclusions are different. I understand completely the concerns others express, but the joy I feel now is my own soul's condition – what my heart/spirit has directed my mind/body to accept. I no longer feel joy; I have it - and it has me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Daughters of a King

I was in a ward a while ago that presented a Young Women's program - exactly like a Primary Program but done by the teenage girls. It included the song "Daughter of a King" that literally had me crying in the congregation. I am moved (both emotionally and spiritually) regularly in Sacrament Meeting (in a wonderful stake), but hearing and seeing young women's voices ring and faces glow as they testify that they are royal by birth and worth something in a world that doesn't tell them that nearly enough . . .

I have four daughters, and I bless the fact that they attend a church where they can claim to be literal daughters of a King - and future Queens in their own right.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Truly Hilarious Blog: I Highly Recommend Bookmarking It

Overheard in the Ward

I generally don't do this in a formal post (in fact, I've never done this in a formal post), but the above blog is, as my former students would say, abso-stinkin-lutely hilarious. I don't think I've found a funnier one in the entire Bloggernacle - or anywhere else, for that matter. I recommend bookmarking it for those moments when you simply need to laugh until you cry.

Also, it is participatory - so anyone can submit funny things they have heard that deal directly with the Church. For example, one of the last submissions - no funnier than many:

CTR 8 Teacher on first day of new calling: My wife and I don’t know the rules of your class so why don’t we all work together to come up with some we can follow.

CTR 8 Child: Never swim in bath oil or bisquick!

Enjoy this wonderful blog!

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Ironic Reflection on Exaltation

My oldest son attends college on the East Coast, over 500 miles away. Chances are very good that he will end up remaining somewhere in that area after he graduates. My next son almost surely will study hundreds of miles away and, if his plans come to fruition, will live even further away than his older brother. My oldest daughter will attend BYU (over 1,500 miles from home). I suspect within two years, our immediate family will resemble that of my parents - with half of our kids at home and the other half far away. Once the younger ones graduate from high school, I'm not sure any of them will live near us.

As for myself, I have lived on the other side of the continent (and world on my mission) from my parents for more than 20 years. Of 8 children, I am the only one that is the spitting image of my father physically. As the oldest son, I feel a particular responsibility for the welfare of my parents and siblings, but I live many hundreds of miles from all of them. (Half of us live in Utah, within 100 miles of my parents.) Anyone who read my Father's Day tribute to my father will understand how deeply I love and admire that man - but I almost never get to see him, and I'm not there to share his burdens as his health slowly deteriorates. I would give almost anything to be nearer to Dad and Mom, except the one thing I cannot give - the life my wife and I have created for my own family.

Ironic, yes, but I think both my heavenly and earthly parents understand, just as I understand that my own family will leave us soon - since that is how I picture the eternities, as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword

I found the following quote and immediately thought of my focus on not reviling this month. It is a perfect way to wrap up the month's efforts:

The best and most clear indicator that we are progressing spiritually and coming unto Christ is the way we treat other people.

"The Tongue Can Be a Sharp Sword" - Marvin J. Ashton (April 1992 General Conference)

What more can I say?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanks for Everything!

I really dislike almost all awards shows, where people get up to thank everyone and their dog for the award. I view these shows almost universally as lavish manifestations of narcissism and ego. Really, what makes one performance better than another at that level? Nothing. Period. End of story. End of rant.

Having said that:

Thank you to everyone for everything. I am blessed in so many ways that there is no way I could come close to enumerating them here - so I won't try. However, I will try to think of and recognize them throughout the day today - and on an on-going basis thereafter.

So, again, thank you to everyone for everything.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"Administering" vs. "Passing" the Sacrament

I was struck by something years ago about women actually "passing" the sacrament. I have a wife and four daughters, I am gone many Sundays, my oldest son has been in college for the past two years and my second boy often is administering the sacrament, so on our pew each Sunday the sacrament is passed by women more than by men - and often exclusively.

There are two aspects that get melded together because of our imprecise terminology. It requires the Priesthood to "administer" the ordinance of the sacrament; it does not require the Priesthood to "pass" the sacrament. We use "pass" to describe what the deacons do, but, in reality, they are assisting the Priests in the "administration" of the sacrament. The Priesthood "hallows" or "sanctifies" and oversees the ordinance (grounds the practice in divine authority), but all are allowed to participate in the process of receiving AND giving - even young children, who are the only one's inherently "worthy" to represent the sinless one.

The key, in my opinion, is not who "passes" the sacrament to each and every member, but rather who "administers" the ordinance - who "oversees" the distribution to the body of believers. That administration can take any number of forms, including our current method of involving the women, girls and children in passing the sacrament.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Conversion of the Whole Soul: Body and Spirit

I have been thinking a lot lately about conversion, and I have come to realize that a true and full conversion includes the whole soul - both body and spirit. If someone is not converted spiritually AND socially, that conversion is not complete. Joseph Smith preached community/kingdom building far more than "personal" salvation. In other words, a full conversion is spiritually (individually) to the Gospel and physically (socially, collectively) to the Church - carrying a personal understanding of the theology and doctrines, but literally losing social individuality within the greater unity of the Body of Christ.

In this light, I think ordinances strengthen both aspects of full conversion - the individual and the communal, the spiritual and the physical. They teach and reinforce the Gospel, usually in symbolic ways that can bring continued understanding of Gospel nuances, but they also tighten communal bonds as they are shared - as our eyes behold others participating with us. Lastly, they provide an actual, tangible experience that I believe becomes embedded into the very archives of our soul. That last point is as true of the sacrament (renewed baptism) as it is of the temple.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Humility: The Foundation of Not Reviling

Some thoughts on humility - the characteristic of godliness that I believe is at the heart of being able to avoid reviling:

1) It is interesting what happens when you stop and think about what you are about to say and ask, "Is this a humble way to say this? Am I seeing both sides? Do I understand what the other person really is saying - not just what I automatically assume s/he is saying? Am I reviling the person by saying it this way?"

2) Being poor in spirit does NOT mean never chastising someone for what they have said or done; it does NOT mean never correcting someone when they are wrong. However, it DOES mean not doing so in ALL cases when someone is wrong in what they say or do. It involves carefully weighing the options and offering a comment that is not personal, or emotional, or hyperbolic - that is not directed at a person but rather what that person said or did.

3) I like myself better when I am focusing consciously on humility.

I find it fascinating that the end of Matthew 5, where it admonishes us to not revile, comes full circle back to the beginning admontion to be poor in spirit. Truly, life and progression is one eternal round.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Her Conversion Is Not As Boring As She Thinks

My Conversion Story - Julie M. Smith (Times & Seasons)

Times and Seasons appears to be down temporarily. If you can't connect, please try back later - or stay and read some other posts. *grin*

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Accepting Uncertainty and Remaining Faithful

I wrote the following on Mormon Matters a while ago (The Bright Night of My Soul), but I felt like I should post it here (edited slightly) on my blog today. It is longer than most of my posts here, but I hope it helps someone, somehow:

I have not experienced a “dark night of the soul”. I have never awakened one morning feeling lost and abandoned, questioning everything of which I once was sure. I have wondered occasionally about that - about why it seemed to have “clicked” so completely for me at such a young age.

1) I read the Book of Mormon for the first time in First Grade as part of a reading project at school. (I chose to read it; everyone else was reading Dr. Seuss, The Berenstain Bears, etc.) By the age of seven, I had read the Book of Mormon and fallen in love with the way it made me feel - not primarily the doctrine in it, per se, but the way it opened my mind and heart to some incredible feelings and impressions. I am not a “visual learner”, and I don’t “see” what I read in the classic sense of being able to envision it in colorful detail. I “got” the words, but more importantly I “got” the “speaking from the dust” aspect - and that was more important than the words for me. (Not long thereafter, I read the New Testament and had the same type of experience.)

More importantly, I recognized places where it DIDN’T say what others believed it said. Even at that age, I was a parser - and I remember thinking that lots of people in my life, including many adults and leaders (and even former prophets and apostles) whom I respected and admired and revered, didn’t really understand some of the things I was reading in the way that they actually were written. I read passages and thought, “I can understand why people think it says ________________, but it just doesn’t say that.”

That was a foundational recognition for me - that faithful people at all levels in the Church could read the same words and understand them differently.

2) Growing up, I remember distinctly the words and example of my father. He taught me so many lessons, but the ones that came back to me as I read Andrew’s post were the ones that dealt with certainty - the ones that taught me what I could and couldn’t know. My dad is not a philosopher; he hated school and struggled there; in many ways, he is average Joe Mormon; he was and is, however, incredibly insightful and brilliant in his own way. Looking back, I have come to realize that he is the closest example of Christ-like, selfless service I have ever known. Many of my strongest “understandings” of the Gospel were shaped by what he said and how he lived, particularly when it comes to the issue of certainty and doubt.

I have no idea how many times I heard him say, “I don’t know if I believe that”, or, “That sounds good, but we just don’t know for sure,” or, “I’m not sure that’s how I see it,” etc.

3) As early as I can remember, I have understood the Gospel to be the core, fundamental, foundational principles of God. I also have understood that everything else is just details. I have understood that there can be certainty in the ideal - in the ultimate end - in the foundation principles, but I also have understood that everything we see and believe and extrapolate and conjecture and assume is subject to “further light and knowledge” - that even with more light and knowledge, we still will see through our glasses, darkly.

My eiphany is that I am comfortable living in my own “dark night” that is similar in practical result as other’s (one that is not cut off from God but simply cut off from certainty about the details) but that came about quite differently than it does for most. I have lived there for as long as I can remember. I have never believed in the certainty that many describe prior to their own dark nights, so I have never felt abandoned by its loss. My “dark night” appears “light” to me, because I don't remember a time when I believed I saw things clearly and completely. I just see them as clearly as I am capable of seeing them - which I understand and accept as “darkly”. I have never been shaken by doubt of detail or radical change in doctrine or policy, because my testimony has never been founded on certainty of detail or doctrine or policy. There are things I feel completely comfortable saying I “know” for myself, but I have never felt like anyone else had to “know” anything with certainty to enjoy the fruits of the Restoration.

I see my own understanding in I Cor. 13:9-13. In full text, it reads:

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

I believe I know in part, and I believe our prophets prophecy in part. I believe that will change someday, but I have no idea when that will be. There was a time, prior to my first reading of the Book of Mormon, when I thought as a child - that everything was black and white and I could know it all; I put away that belief at a very early age. I believe I see through my own glass, darkly and, therefore, only in part; I believe someday I will know fully.

Verse 8 is the bridge between the characteristics of charity and the outlook charity provides. It says:

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Given this perspective, I live now with faith and hope that I will understand and know more fully on an on-going basis as my future unfolds. The greatest thing I can do in the here and now, however, is to be charitable - to obtain the characteristics in 1 Cor. 13:4-7 and allow them to grow within me and change me into the type of person who can accept wherever I and others are in our own individual spiritual maturation processes.

I believe firmly and deeply in the PRINCIPLES of ongoing-revelation and charity exercised in how I must view others - that what I believe now differs from what I believed as a youth and young adult - that what I believe now differs from what I will believe in the future - that what I believe now differs from what others believe now. I believe that this charity God gave me as a youth will not fail me, even as prophecies and tongues and knowledge fail all around me.

In my youth, this was an unconsciously proactive embrace of the core concept embedded in the dark night; in my adulthood, it is a light shining in darkness. I like to think of it as the long-extended bright night of my soul.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Embracing Those Whom Others Will Not Embrace

The growth of the Church stems from the strength and depth of the testimonies gained and developed by the membership prior to and following baptism. That is a given. However, frankly, I think the Church blossoms in direct proportion to how well regular members and local leaders understand the concept of friendship and fellowship - since I think that is the essence of what Jesus taught and lived. Yes, He taught ideals that often were even stricter than the original 10 Commandments, but He also put His arms around anyone who would open up to them - living among saints and sinners alike and, particularly, embracing those whom no others would embrace.

I wonder sometimes, "Who are the lepers in our modern society - or even in the Church? Who is the women taken in adultery? Who are the untouchables Jesus would have touched - the unembraceable ones Jesus would have embraced?" I then wonder, "Am I touching and embracing them in any significant way?"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Recognizing and Removing the Roots of Reviling

As I have observed the aftermath of the vote on Proposition 8, especially, I have tried to read comments from people with widely varying opinions and perspectives with an eye toward what is making them bitter and leading them to revile those with whom they disagree. The following list is not exhaustive, but it includes the things that I have noticed the most frequently. I am going to use the example of homosexuality solely since it has been the focus of the comments on the threads where reviling has been the most prominent. However, I believe the general causes of reviling cut across any single issue - so I ask only that this post not be viewed as a post about homosexuality. It is not - and all comments that focus on homosexuality in and of itself will be deleted.

The root causes of reviling I have observed are:

1) Fundamental lack of understanding

It is fascinating to see how badly many people misunderstand even some very basic things about those they oppose. Over and over, I have read statements like the following:

Mormons hate gays.

Anyone who voted for Prop. 8 is a bigot.

The most severe example was in a comment just yesterday, on a blog that generally is not one of the more extreme:

Remember, we are talking about people who literally do not want homosexuals to exist!

On the other hand, I have read things like the following from those who supported Prop. 8:

Satan is behind the opposition to Prop. 8.

All Mormons who didn't contribute to the campaign and/or voted against Prop. 8 (no matter if they said anything publicly) don't accept the prophets and should lose their temple recommends.

Gays are out to recruit my kids to be gay. It's not about them; it's about converting straight kids to become gays.

This is only a tiny sampling, but it is crystal clear to me that these people simply don't understand those that believe differently than they do. They might even know a few of these people (e.g., homosexuals on one hand and Mormons on the other), but they definitely don't understand them as a group - particularly since they tend to assume that the good people they know on the opposite side are the exception to the rule.

2) Personal prejudice

Many people grow up with a particular prejudice being taught in their youth and adolescence. This leads to biases and stereotypes about religious adherents, entire races, political partisans, men and women, socio-economic status, etc. Much of what I have read shows this underlying assumption from the impressionable years of youth - and this is not confined to one side or the other. For example, many Mormons and gays have a well-developed persecution complex, often for solid reasons rooted in actual events of discrimination against each group as a whole. It is especially hard for these people to view something like Prop. 8 with anything even resembling impartiality, as their personal experiences tell them that their opponents have the worst possible motives.

3) Prior Pain

This is similar to #2, but it goes a little deeper in what I have read. Many people who are responding to the result of Prop. 8 - especially those who lost the vote (those who support gay marriage), but also Mormons who now are the object of protests and scorn - have been hurt previously in very real ways by their status as Mormon and/or homosexual. They have experienced true and virulent homophobia and hate. Those prior experiences, like the teachings of their youth, make it very difficult to distinguish the nuances inherent in differing perspectives - and make it much easier to ascribe hidden motives and unexpressed loathing to people who really do bear no ill will personally to those with whom they disagree. These people, particularly, have an excruciatingly difficult time accepting that those who disagree with them still can love them. Their experience teaches otherwise, and experience trumps all else in most situations.

4) Impaired Perspective

Of all the reasons I have seen for the reviling and vitriol I have read, I believe this one is the most fundamental - and the only one that when corrected can lead to the eradication of #1 and the overcoming of #2 and #3. I truly believe that the recognition of every single person as a child of God and, therefore, a brother or sister with identical eternal potential is the only achievement that has the power to eliminate reviling completely and irrevocably. This goes beyond just believing that all are equal in God's eyes - although that is a great place to start. This includes believing ALL can rise above their natural, human weakness - in Christian terms, believing that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is capable of overlooking ANY inadequacy or flaw by focusing solely on the condition of the heart - believing that God sees with unimpaired perspective. Ultimately, it includes a belief that the object of existence is to develop the characteristics of godliness articulated in the Sermon on the Mount and other scriptures and become Christlike, since becoming a new (wo)man in Christ provides the perspective necessary to see divine potential in all others.

Matthew 7:1 is compelling in its simplicity:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

1 Corinthians 13 speaks of this type of charity and forbearance, with verse 12 being an especially powerful summary of the difficulty in understanding others enough to not revile them - particularly a phrase that generally is overlooked as spoken by a prophet:

For now we see through a glass, darkly . . . now I know in part

Recognizing that we don't see and understand fully - and developing the humility and charity necessary to cut others some slack, not judge them and accept what they say as honest and sincere (even while disagreeing ) - is critical to avoiding reviling. Similarly necessary is the meekness to not need to "win" every discussion - and not see everything as a battle between us and an "enemy". Sometimes - I would say often - it is fine simply to agree to disagree and move forward in love and mutual respect. In order to do so, however, we must see others as our equals in the eyes of God - and that is not an easy thing to accomplish. It does not come naturally. Rather, it must be a conscious decision and constant effort.

Regardless of the effort required, I promise it is worth it.

Being a Pioneer: A Wonderful Sacrament Meeting Talk

Paradox is Finished - Paradox (Enduring to the End)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Righteous Complaints

There is a difference between "murmuring" and "complaining" - and the difference is fascinating and counter-intuitive, but extremely important. (Murmer: to mumble or express privately an expression of discontent. Complain: to tell of one's pains, ailments) We are commanded not to murmur, imo, specifically because such pronouncements are done in a way that breeds discontent. (Think of someone slipping secretively among a group making soft comments to stir up anger or dissent.) However, in a very real sense, part of our prayers is supposed to be focused on our pains and ailments - asking for help dealing with and/or overcoming them. If we don't "complain" in that sense, we aren't acknowledging the atonement by trying to get help with our problems.

Look at D&C 121 and 122. If Joseph Smith hadn't complained, he (and we) might not have gotten one of the most beautiful reassurances in all of recorded scripture. We are commanded to endure to the end (and to endure well), but I can't think of a single instance when we are commanded to suffer in silence - except when it is to abstain from a public display of suffering, intended merely to highlight our suffering for public adulation.

The same is true of repentance. It is totally dependent on recognizing our weaknesses and mistakes and transgressions and sins and, literally, complaining to the Lord about them. Of course, we should not complain to someone who cannot alleviate our pain (like to a mechanic about our blood pressure or a reporter about an internal family matter), but we must complain to the proper person to see any problem fixed. It's the attitude (complaining in humility) and the focus (complaining to the right person) that are critical.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Courage, Zest and Modesty: The First Are Not Above the Last

"I hope that you will develop the questing spirit. Be unafraid of new ideas for they are the stepping stones of progress. You will of course respect the opinions of others but be unafraid to dissent - if you are informed.

Now I have mentioned freedom to express your thoughts, but I caution you that your thoughts and expressions must meet competition in the market place of thought, and in that competition truth will emerge triumphant. Only error needs to fear freedom of expression. Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth - O God of truth deliver us’.”

(Hugh B Brown. Speech at BYU, March 29, 1958)

This past week, I have seen much of courage and zest, but I have seen much less of modesty.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Proposition 8 and the Presidency: A Week of Reviling

I look at the resolution I made at the beginning of the year, and it strikes me once again how totally and thoroughly my Father in Heaven knows me.

I am focusing this month partly on not reviling those who revile me (personally or as part of a group) - and I never imagined when I made this resolution last December that many would be openly reviling me this month, simply because I am Mormon. However, that is exactly what is happening in California right now - due to the passing of Proposition 8 and the Church's encouragement of its members to work to help it pass. Gay marriage activists and gay individuals and gay marriage supporters shut down traffic in front of the Los Angeles temple for hours - threatening to climb the fences around the temple grounds and wreak havoc to the place we revere as "The House of the Lord". These people (who do not represent the typical citizens who opposed Proposition 8 any more than the vocal Mormon bigots represent the typical members who truly tried to follow the actual admonitions of the Church concerning love and respect) primarily were reviling my "conservative" opinion on one issue, with no understanding whatsoever about how I reached my opinion on this issue - or on any other issues.

The most ironic aspect of this week is that I also faced reviling from others (including some church members) due to my vote for President-Elect Obama. A few of them even questioned how I could hold a temple recommend because of my vote. I can't even begin to describe how disturbing that is to me, to have my spiritual worthiness impugned because of a political decision that is seen as too "liberal" by some members of the Church.

Due to my views on these two issues, I was reviled by others as being both too conservative and too liberal. Irony, thy name is politics.

This post is not about Proposition 8 fundamentally, or even about the issue of gay marriage - or about the Presidential election; rather, it is about the irony and awfulness of outrage and reviling.

As I said in my post last Saturday, "to revile" is ""to address or abuse with contemptuous language". As I read comments on theads about Prop 8 and the election this week, and particularly when I watched the protest (and near riot) outside the Los Angeles temple grounds something struck me - HARD.

There were some members who said some truly terrible things - who reviled homosexuals and those who supported gay marriage. They were a small minority, but they existed. That is truly and deeply disturbing to me. The Church, however, urged calmness and compassion and love and acceptance of people even while asking for opposition to what those people believed. Of course, that is a difficult distinction to make for those who don't accept the Church's basic, foundational understanding of the Law of Chastity, but the Church itself never issued hate-inspired statements.

What struck me was that the protestors at the Los Angeles temple had succumbed to the natural tendency to construct a straw man as a target for their outrage - and their reviling. (I say "straw man" intentionally, since the Mormon vote was only a minority of the vote. Perhaps it was the most visible and became the public face for many, but those who voted for the proposition came from many backgrounds and religious denominations - many.) The protesters created a monolithic Mormon caricature and directed their anger at that symbolic target - embodied in our temple. What struck me most forcefully, however, is that as a result of their inability to avoid reviling, these people were acting exactly like the caricature they had created. They were "haters" in every sense of the word - FAR more so than the people and the organization they were protesting. It took police officers deployed on the grounds to stop a riot, something that was not an issue from those they labeled "haters".

I have never understood the admonition, "Revile not," more than I have this week. When I made this resolution, I understood that reviling stands in opposition to love and the pursuit of perfection, but even last week I did not understand how completely and overwhelmingly opposed to the Plan of Salvation succumbing to reviling truly is.

I don't want to become like the protesters I saw this week. I don't want my life to be consumed by hate, especially hate that is directed largely at a caricature. I don't want to fill my heart with hatred and anger toward an entire group of people simply because I disagree with their moral and political views - no matter how repugnant I find those views. Most of all, with all my heart, I do not want to become the mirror image of the caricature I am protesting.

I do not write this post in an attitude of reviling. I write it hoping somehow that those who are now in the gall of bitterness and anger and even hate (ON BOTH SIDES) will recognize the destructiveness of that path, examine the result of continued reviling and commit to follow the Savior's admonition (no matter their moral and political beliefs) in Matthew 5:44-47 to:

Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

I have come to believe that the only way to rise above the natural tendency to revile and hate is found in the verse I quoted in my post on Wednesday (1 John 4:19):

We love him, because he first loved us.

May we first love those who revile us.

The Dignity of a Child

Stephanie Passing the Sacrament - Kevin Barney (By Common Consent)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

May We First Love Others

I knew a girl growing up who was more than slightly overweight and rather plain looking by society's standards. She always felt that judgment and never felt fully accepted by the boys in town - never felt that she was "worth much" as a girl. One day in her late teens, she met a young man who went home and told his mother, "I've just seen the most beautiful girl in the world." About a year later, they were married - and now she glories in her womanhood. 

This woman now is still overweight and rather plain looking. The world still would look at her and say, "She's nothing special," but she knows differently because someone else knows differently. 

"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

May we first love others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Finding Purpose and Growth in Church Meetings

There is a very specific purpose for each meeting we attend on Sunday (Sac Mtg = communal worship and spiritual renewal; Sun School = doctrinal study; PH/RS/YM/YW = personal and communal growth and service, practical discussion, organizational planning; Primary = too many to list and truly the most challenging, exhilarating, frustrating and exhausting), and even when I'm not learning anything new in a meeting I feel a responsibility to listen intently, observe those around me and try to help them learn from that meeting in whatever way is possible. Sometimes that is by verbal contribution; sometimes it is by smiling at a speaker; sometimes it is by nothing more than a reverential focus.

I have found that I can GROW in almost any meeting I attend, as long as I'm not hung up on having to LEARN intellectually during the meeting - and sometimes I learn amazing things from a meeting or someone in that meeting when I might otherwise think they and it can't teach me anything new.

I have found in my life that my attitude is MUCH more important to what I get out of church meetings than what is said in those meetings. It really isn't even close.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Give Freely; Revile Not

Matthew 5:38-42 says:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

My resolution for November is taken from these verses. I have translated them for myself as:

Give more freely and do not revile as quickly.

To "revile" means: "to address or abuse with contemptuous language". The clear focus is on the abusive nature of the language being used. I chose this wording to highlight what I see as the central point of "turning the other cheek" - that of not returning abuse when being abused. As I do not anticipate being in a situation to be abused physically, I am focusing on verbal abuse, instead.

These two areas (generosity and being slow to revile) are natural strengths - things that come more naturally to me than many of the other things on which I have focused this year. I learned both of these traits by watching my parents - my father, who would give anything to anyone in need, and my mother, who (we joked) would say, upon seeing our bare house stripped by a gang of thieves, "They must need it more than we do." Furthermore, I don't remember one time in the 19 years I lived at home hearing my father say something abusive or ridiculing to someone else, and I never heard my mother even say anything negative (in any way) about anyone else.

I know how hard that is to believe, but I saw these characteristics modeled to perfection by my parents, and these particular things rubbed off (although not completely) on their oldest son. I am grateful, so very grateful, that, in this way particularly, I am the spitting image of my father and am my mother's son.

This is perhaps the best example of how I want my resolution each month to focus not only on my weaknesses but also on my strengths. Of course, I want to have the Lord turn my weaknesses into strengths, but I also want Him to make my strengths become perfect - whole, complete and fully-developed. Since these characteristics already are strengths, I will look this month for ways to exercise them more regularly - to see opportunities to give more freely (especially of non-monetary resources) and to be even less prone to revile in my conversations with others.