Monday, June 9, 2008

More Thoughts on Repentance

Further thoughts on "A Fresh View" of Repentance: (Please read the original post if you don't remember the basic foundational premise.)
  • This approach focuses specifically on acquiring the characteristics outlined by Jesus (and the apostles and prophets) as the means of changing our nature. I know Christian theologians have spoken of this in general terms, but the “practical motivation” for Mormons is literally the growth necessary to become like God. It’s not “simply” an emulative process of praise; it’s a developmental process of receiving His true glory.

    Based on my own study and discussions with Protestant friends over the years, I suspect many of them (and especially their ministers) would find this approach blasphemous - since it says there is a way for our own decisions and actions to play a large part in transforming us into gods. My response is that such an approach is totally consistent with the Bible admonitions and is, in fact, the central message of the Bible, but they don’t see it that way - at all.

    I DO AGREE, however, that the terminology I use sounds quite familiar to Protestants - more so than to many Mormons who were raised with the “steps of repentance”. I don’t disagree at all with the idea behind the steps approach; I simply believe that most of those steps happen almost simultaneously - so focusing on them one-by-one sometimes ends up feeling artificial and forced - and that it usually makes the process much, much longer than it needs to be in order to reach the final “step”. The “rethinking” part really is just focusing on the classic “last step” right from the start - **being PROACTIVE in the process of change rather than REACTIVE to the occurrence of sin**. I believe developing the characteristics of godhood will eliminate future sin from our lives in ways that reactively working through a 12-step program simply can’t do.

    In other words, “repentance” in this approach means change of NATURE, not just change of ACTION - and that really is a “fresh view” (as worded in the Bible Dictionary).

  • Let me make this clear: I should reword the post to make it clear that there is a place for the “steps” version of repentance - particularly when we are discussing sins that have inflicted real harm on others and that have become habitualized. If someone truly is like an alcoholic (addict) and needs the more structured “program”, I cannot deny the power of a 12-step program. Those who are not like alcoholics (addicts) in this regard, however, generally feel out of place in such meetings, where public confession and sponsorship are so critical.

  • “In a general sense, I don’t think anyone can ever fully repent in this life (”total transformation”).” [comment by a friend of mine]

    I used to think so, but I’m not so sure anymore. I wish I had started this process in my childhood, since that would have given me multiple decades to work on it in this manner. I have a LONG way to go, but I can say honestly that I believe I have progressed more in this regard in the last 5 months than in the 10-15 years prior to this year. It is amazing what happens when you really focus on one characteristic intensely - even if it is only for a month at a time, like it has been in my resolution. I really look forward to continuing this effort.

    I am beginning to view repentance on a characteristic-by-characteristic basis - that, with real prayer, study and sincere effort, I really can become perfectly (completely and wholly) poor in spirit, and meek, and merciful, etc. Perhaps I will never reach “total perfection” (”full repentance”) in this life, but I am less sure it is impossible than I was last year. Can I ever become “mistake-free”? I doubt it, but that’s not the pure definition of “perfect” in the first place, since the Atonement covers our transgressions wrought by the Fall - along with the mistakes caused by it.

    I’m beginning to believe that Matthew 5:48 is more than just a nice platitude - a worthy goal for which to strive. I’m beginning to wonder if it really is an attainable commandment.

** I think the "traditional version" shouldn't be the default we teach for all from the earliest years of their lives. As I've said, I have no problem with the "details" of that approach; my post is more about realizing that we can "repent" (change) in a very real and empowering way even when we aren't out there committing egregious sins - IF we redefine repentance to what it says in our scriptures - "change" from the "natural man" to the "Christ-like man" that is described in the Sermon on the Mount (and other places). Suppression says, essentially, that I will be a more controlled version of me; replacement says, essentially, that I will become someone new. That should be the default we teach, with the "steps version" reserved for those who need that type of checklist to follow.

Let me give you a sales analogy:

When I was a sales manager, one of the most difficult challenges I faced when training salespeople was getting them to move past the strict formula of identifying the steps of the sales cycle (the traditional pipeline progression that moved a prospect along an established line from 10% to 100%) to the point where they could realize that many people are ready to jump straight to 40-60% after the first meeting - and 100% very quickly after that. They were ready to make an immediate change, and it was OK to go ahead and have them "forsake their previous mistakes" by changing their actions immediately - rather than have to force them step-by-step through the "classic", generalized sales cycle. I have seen more sales lost in a normally long sales cycle by salespeople who moved too slowly and cautiously than by just about any other pattern. The key is NOT to force them to square one then through each and every step, but rather to identify where they actually are and move them forward to change from there.

(There is a missionary analogy in there, but I will skip it here.)

Likewise, most school districts that didn't buy from us chose to do that NOT because they didn't have the financial ability but rather because they didn't have the political ability to focus on identified best practices and make the instructional and spending changes necessary to implement what we were selling. Rather, they were stuck in the mire of trying to change their results while continuing to perform the same activities - by applying more pressure on their teachers and administrators to do what they already were doing better. They were trying to suppress the problem within their current system, rather than building an environment more conducive to learning - especially by applying new technologies and teaching methods that would have eliminated multiple educational problems simultaneously.

I know this is not a perfect analogy, but it highlights the same basic point: That suppression rarely works long-term for things that have not reached the level of deeply embedded addictions (where suppression might be the only option), and the constant need for suppression often brings resignation and giving up on one's self - especially when each occurrence is seen as "sin" or "failure".


Anonymous said...

Ray, if I end up joining the LDS community, it will be in large part due to your writings on this blog as well as on others. You consistently take complex issues and distill them to their essences. It takes a great deal of lead work to simplify. The truly proficient are the ones who make things look easy. You turn ideas into tools to help us get where we want to go. And you do it with such humility and kindness. You really are an inspiration.

Mama D said...

Ellen, that is a wonderful comment. As one who knows just how deeply that touched Ray, may I just say thanks for reading and commenting.

Ray, my favorite parts are the following, because they help me see more clearly how I tend to view myself in the process of repentance:

**being PROACTIVE in the process of change rather than REACTIVE to the occurrence of sin**

“repentance” in this approach means change of NATURE, not just change of ACTION

Suppression says, essentially, that I will be a more controlled version of me; replacement says, essentially, that I will become someone new.

Thanks for sharing your insights!

Papa D said...

Thank you, Ellen. You probably don't know how much that means to me.

Kevin said...


It's encouraging to check in on your progress from time to time. I'm trying to see how I can implement a similar process in my life to your personal improvement plan here.

This quote, though, is significant:

**being PROACTIVE in the process of change rather than REACTIVE to the occurrence of sin**

It's the crux of perfecting ourselves. I too often find myself in that reactive category, and you are a great example of the proactive process. Keep it up, and I will try to follow you.

BTW, in one of the JI discussions the other day, I got tagged as a "mormonliberalblogocrat". It's such a great handle, that I am going to register the domain name. I've been thinking about my own personal blog, in addition to our family blog, and that just might be the right title.

Papa D said...


Yeah, the funniest part of that statement was that I also got tagged with that broad brush - which is hilarious when you understand my general political leanings.

I really like that as a title for your personal blog. The other possibility would be "bloggernacledecoderringholder" - but that's a bit long.