Saturday, May 30, 2009

Treasures in Heaven; Blessings on Earth

I have been blogging each Saturday this month principally about not judging. I am fascinated once again at how appropriate the monthly resolutions have been on more than one occasion since I started this focus at the beginning of 2008 - and the wrap-up post for this month is a another great reminder that God knows us personally and is willing to inspire us in advance to meet circumstances that will arise in the future.

Matthew 6:19-23 was the "secondary" passage I chose to analyze and emphasize this month (Matthew 7:1-5 being the primary one). It reads:

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

When I first crafted this resolution, I honestly didn't know why I included two very different passages for one month. I stand all amazed now, looking back and looking forward, at how inspired that decision was so long ago.

As some of you are aware, I am in the process of making a major change in my life - and, like many moments of extensive change, my immediate future has caused me to reflect on my past. This resolution (to study and consider Matthew 6:19-23) is interesting in light of my reflections this week.

For those of you who are not aware, I will be starting a new job in a brand new field next month. Among other things, I have been a classroom teacher, a training manager, an educational publishing salesman and sales manager and, most recently, a manager in the elderly care industry. For years, I have considered trying to move into college admissions, but the timing simply never seemed right. Now, it is - and I will be an entry level admissions rep for a liberal arts college in Missouri in about three weeks.

(If anyone has children, siblings or friends who are interested in a liberal arts education, especially one where they can craft their own individualized field of study, have them check out Culver-Stockton College. We are making some very exciting changes, and I am looking forward to being a part of that process.)

What struck me this week, amid the pressure of packing, purging, house hunting, etc., is that I am (yet again) starting over and taking a significant pay cut (from when I was employed) in order to pursue something I really want to do - and something I feel I have been inspired to pursue. Looking back on my life to this point, I am impressed once again by the foresight of the man who gave me my Patriarchal Blessing -
when he told me that money would never be a top priority in my life. Each step along the way, from my college graduation (when I walked away from enormous economic potential to become a school teacher) to my movement away from upper level management in order to help influence my own children and a troubled young man to this mid-life career transition, I have faced multiple decisions where I had to choose between "treasures upon earth" and "treasures in heaven".

What is fascinating to me is that each time I have chosen to pursue treasures upon earth, I have ended up being burned by that choice, in obvious, undeniable ways - while each time I have pursued treasures in heaven (to "do the right thing"), I have been blessed greatly, in multiple, obvious, undeniable ways.
Essentially every major, incredibly difficult financial trial I have faced has been the result of following my own instincts and understanding; essentially every major, incredibly enlightening blessing I have received (relative to my immediate family - wife and kids) has been the result of choosing something that made little sense at the time - something about which we felt inspired or something that was arranged almost without active involvement and work on my part.

My upcoming move is just the latest example of this. I know I am going to be doing what I am supposed to be doing, and this week has included direct evidence to me and my wife. Due to the overall economic situation in this area and our own situation, we are going to have to rent when we move. The issue is that, for a family of seven (at least for a few months), there are practically no available rental properties in the area to which we need to move.
I felt strongly that we should try to live in the town where the college is located, but it became apparent right away that there were no housing options available for us. Instead, it appeared that we would need to look in the surrounding, larger towns - and even with that expanded search we were able to find only one option that fit both our size and cost needs. Therefore, we arranged to go out and look at that possibility on Thursday, praying it would work for us.

This Monday night, I was contacted by an agent with whom I had spoken previously. She informed me that she had talked with someone who was trying to sell his house and wasn't interested in renting. He had agreed to let us see it and talk with us about the possibility of renting for a while. When she showed me the house on-line, I almost fell out of my chair.
It was the ONLY house I had seen as I initially looked on my own in the town where the college is located that I remember thinking, "I wish this house was being rented."

The bottom line is this:

We have a house we can rent, at a price we can afford, of an adequate size, in the exact location where I had felt we needed to be -
and NONE of it, really, was my doing. I had reconciled myself to having to compromise, convincing myself in the process that I must have misunderstood my initial impression.

Surely, God is good - and we are blessed
in this life when we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. The Gospel truly is full of paradoxes, and I am learning more and more to trust in Him and ignore what I want in order to do recognize and accept what He wants.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blaming God or the Devil

I think we attribute way too much to God and the Devil and way too little to ourselves.

For example, in almost any discussion, there is one side that says, in effect, "It must have been God's will," while another side says, “It is not right, and Satan is the cause if someone ’succumbs.’” ("The Devil made me do it.")

Both are cop-outs. Whatever we believe, we should own up to our own place as the chooser of our actions - relying on God's grace and mercy to cover those things we simply can't do differently. I understand the need for a “devil” in our theology, and I can accept the existence of a rebel leader named Lucifer, but I also would not grieve in the slightest if we learn that “the devil” is figurative and he disappears from our discussions – if we simply focus on progressing by understanding better and improving ourselves within the exalting grace of God.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Personal Reflection on Nephi's Psalm

I remember a very spiritual man whom I greatly admired declaring “Why, when I know what I know, do I do the things that I do?” It floored me because I thought I was the only one who felt compartmentalized in his church membership — born again of the spirit on the one hand, and still watching Satan play me like a fiddle on occasion.

When it talks about the Nephites preaching nothing but faith and repentance and the confessing of sins, it’s for reasons like these that you describe. We all need to realize that others are going through the same drama that we are and that this is the essence of Christian struggle, or at least that of the true Christian. We all need to know we’re not alone. I think you’ve hit the perfect tone here — the actual sins are none of our business, but the openness with the struggle benefits all of us.

Comment #55 by Lorin - Auld Lang Sin (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thoughts on Unrealistic Expectations

I was talking with a couple of friends a while ago, and something hit me that I want to share:

One was raised in a home with incredibly unrealistic expectations; the other one converted as an adult with young adult children. Both of them faced similar issues, although they were caused by different circumstances.

The first one felt expectations from the time he was a young child to not be like "the Gentiles" - to not be a sinner - to be a perfect example to others. This led to feelings of inadequacy as he realized that standard was beyond his reach - that he was a sinner - that he couldn't be a perfect example. The second one struggled to help his adult children understand and accept his radical change when he joined the Church - to see why he no longer would do much of what he had done for so long with them. His children didn't understand the change and rebelled to a degree. It took him years to develop the same kind of relationship with them that he had prior to his conversion, caused almost entirely by their perception of his expectations of them - expectations that he actually did not hold or attempt to press on them.

This would sound absurd to many who cannot understand it, but I have a deep and abiding sympathy for Laman and Lemuel. I picture Lehi in much the same light as I picture the good men who raised my friends (and Brigham Young, fwiw): a complicated man - loving, opinionated, spiritual, judgmental, gentle, harsh, demanding, caring, sweet, bitter, humble, arrogant - full of contradictions. On an intellectual level, I think I know why Laman and Lemuel struggled as much as they did, especially after Lehi's conversion. The sudden change in expectations and the radical change into a "prophet" probably seemed like pure lunacy to them, if I am correct about his life prior to his "converting vision". I'm sure they couldn't reconcile the man who raised them (if, in fact, he was around much to help raise them) and the man who returned home one day as a "prophet".

I believe in expectations, but on an emotional level, I feel for these people - deeply, just as I feel for others in this day and age who are raised by good parents who are doing their very best but transmit unrealistic expectations (actively or only through perception) to their children.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Problems with Biblical Inerrancy for Protestants

Those who claim that the "modern Protestant creeds" (like the Westminster Confession) are consistent with an inerrant Biblical canon have a central problem that few of them recognize.

In essence, what they are saying is that the earliest Christians who articulated the creeds (the Apostles Creed, the Nicean Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Athanasian Creed, etc.) screwed up, so others tried again - and screwed up again, so others tried again and finally got it right. The most obvious problem is asserting that those who were closest to the actual events and early prophets somehow didn’t understand them and their teachings as well as those who came later. Using that logic, and that logic alone, Mormons must understand better than orthodox Protestants, since Mormons came later. That’s not the logic I would use, but it is exactly the logic many use to justify their adherence to the specific creeds they accept and their rejection of the earlier creeds.

These people claim the later creeds are more accurate; Mormons claim the earlier creeds are more accurate. The most ironic part of their argument is that Protestantism was founded on the idea that the Catholic Church had misconstrued the earlier creeds - that Protestantism was necessary to return to a more correct version of what the Gospel had meant prior to the changes over time - to “go back”, if you will, to the earlier, “correct” understanding. The problem is that this leaves people arguing both sides of this coin ("The later creeds are more accurate, because they better reflect the earlier understanding, but any creeds developed even later are inaccurate - because they came later.")

My suggestion for these people is simple: "Pick one stance and argue it; just make sure the one you pick doesn’t justify the Mormon position even more than your own."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

With What Judgment Ye Judge

Matthew 7:2 says:

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

During the last two years, I have blogged extensively throughout the Bloggernacle - and one of the things that has jumped out at me more forcefully than perhaps anything else is how rarely this simple verse seems to be understood in the context of internet communication. I read derogatory comments that include characterizations of others' personal righteousness - or condemnatory, sharp statements to others' comments - or dismissive, rude responses and ridicule. Often, it is obvious that there is a judgment being made - and that such a judgment is not one motivated by charity.

I have a foundation rule when it comes to how I try to comment. I try before submitting any comment to stop and re-read it with the following question in mind:

How would I react if someone else had typed this comment in response to something I wrote?

A related question is:

Does this comment make a personal judgment about the person to whose comment I'm replying - or does it focus solely on what has been written?

I believe what we write in our internet communication shows as clearly as anything else how well we have internalized the admonition to judge not, that we be not judged. I also believe it shows how deeply we believe that we will be judged the same way we judge others - and I think that of the two concepts (not judging and receiving reciprocal judgment) the latter (receiving reciprocal judgment) actually is the more fundamental of the two.

In other words, I believe understanding the reciprocal nature of eternal judgment can keep us from judging others FAR more effectively at first than simply believing we shouldn't judge others. Simply believing we shouldn't judge is the higher law, but most people need to understand the reciprocal nature of eternal judgment in order to begin to internalize being non-judgmental.

I try to be charitable initially because I wanted others to be charitable toward me, but I have moved beyond that initial motivation and now try to be charitable because I want to be charitable for its own sake. Most internet communication I read, however, even much of what I read in the Bloggernacle, simply isn't charitable - but rather judgmental. Given Matthew 7:2, that should be a concern to those whose comments I read - but I can't judge their level of understanding of that principle, so I can't judge them.

Oh, the irony.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Myth of "the Whole Truth"

Teaching social studies is an exercise in deciding what to teach and what to ignore - whether you are talking about religious history in a church class or any other type of history in a school classroom. In the practical reality of actual classrooms, there is no such thing as "the whole truth". If there was, there would be no need for theses and dissertations and college-level courses. Furthermore, everything that is written comes from some limited perspective; each story is told through the lens of the teller. As a teacher, the only legitimate argument is over what specific part of the "whole truth" to present.

For example, Joseph Smith was commanded to repent in order to continue to be able to translate. Why would I speculate about exactly which sins Joseph had to overcome to continue the translation? He lists various weaknesses and sins in the JSH; he is chastised repeatedly in the D&C; why is it of any value to start listing specific sins when the lesson isn't about that - and when the portrayals we have of him do not come close to presenting him as infallible and sinless? Why do some people think it is critical (or even a worthwhile exercise) to take limited time and spend it trying to cram everything possible into that time?

I have a hard time biting my tongue when the Church is accused of teaching "half-truths" and not teaching "the whole truth". That simply can't be done, especially in one-hour lessons taught once a week. Under those circumstances, those who correlate the lessons and those who teach them simply must choose what to include and what to leave out. There is no other way.

I'm not saying I would craft the manuals the exact same way they are published now. I wouldn't. There are any number of things I would do differently. The reality, however, is that my effort would be my subjective effort - not any closer to "the real truth" than what we have now.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

To Live More Abundantly

"I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width [and breadth] of it as well."

Diane Ackerman

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

1955 - 2009: Prioritizing the Dash

I wrote Saturday about the death of Denny Hazelton, a Bishop in our stake. (A Good Man Gone: Finding Peace) The following poem, "The Dash", by Linda Ellis (edited slightly, 'cause this is my blog - and I just can't help it), was included in his funeral program, and I want to share it with everyone here:

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on a tombstone - from the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of one's birth and spoke of the next date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all was the dash between the years -
For that dash represented the time his friend spent alive here on Earth,
And now only those who love him know what that little line is worth.

It matters not how much we own: the cars, the house, the cash.
What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard. Are there things you'd like to change?
You never know how much time is left that still can be arranged.
If we could just slow down enough to consider what's true and real -
and always try to understand the way other people feel -
and be less quick to anger - and show appreciation more -
and love the people in our lives like we've never loved before.

We should treat each other with deeper respect and more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash might only last for a while.

So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life's actions rehashed,
Would you be pleased with the things that are said about how you spent your dash?

May we look back on life and be happy about how we spent our dash - and may our loved ones, in particular, and the world, in general, be better for it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Co-Dependency vs. "Losing One's Life"

Comment #54 by Russell Arben Fox - Auld Lang Sin (By Common Consent)

"The New Testament emphasizes the idea of losing yourself, of serving God and feeling His love through forgetting oneself and serving one’s fellow man. In my experience (which I have had too much of, unfortunately) this scriptural call is one that struggling addicts can (sometimes knowingly, sometimes not) abuse, as can their co-dependents; both can end up embracing the idea that the sins or needs or deficiencies in question must be constantly attended to, that everyone else has an obligation to put life on hold and make exceptions for the person in need of help.

Of course, all us addicts – all us sinners, which includes every person reading this comment, not to mention every person on this planet – do need help. But a “help” which makes someone feel that their first obligation is to put their own relationship with the Savior on hold, and spend their time “cataloging/covering up for/taking the blame for/internalizing/shielding/blaming/hiding/down-playing” (great list, by the way!)…well, that’s not truly losing yourself in the service of another person; that’s having allowed another person to so completely define and inhabit you that his selfish (whether he realizes it or not) interests become your selfish interests. At its extreme, co-dependency becomes a perverse and sad sort of self-love (”I need him to love himself so I can love myself again!”). Obviously, that isn’t at all what the Lord wants for us – for any of us."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Religious Double Standards When Dismissing Mormonism

Someone called me un-Christian for not accepting the Bible (as canonized in the 4th Century AD) as inerrant. They said that the Bible is the word of God - straight from God’s mouth to the prophets’ ears to the page. Then, in the same breath, they accepted as Christian someone who said that an entire book in the Bible is not inspired of God. (Martin Luther about the Epistle of James) They quoted Revelation (completely out of context in my opinion) to castigate us for adding to the canon, but they didn’t castigate Luther for taking away from the canon. That’s a double standard.

I do not judge others by what they profess to believe, particularly if they profess to accept Jesus as Lord and God. I try not to judge them (act as judge concerning the condition of their soul) at all, since that also is something Jesus commanded we not do. (Matthew 7:1-2) I disagree strongly with much of what other Christians believe, but I would NEVER take that disagreement and condemn someone to Hell because of it. *****I have been commanded by Jesus Christ not to do that.***** I have been commanded to let their fruits inform my decision.

I know that the fruits of our early Mormon prophets, especially, might lead people to dismiss them, but I also know that most Biblical prophets also would fail under the type of criticism that is used to condemn modern prophets. That’s a double standard, and I oppose it.

It's the same concept as claiming that God and angels visiting Joseph Smith is ludicrous and unbelievable, while simultaneously accepting all of the angelic and divine visions and visitations of the Bible as perfectly believable. That's a double standard; it's wrong and un-Christian.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Good Man Gone: Finding Peace

The second part of my New Year's Resolution for this month is from Matthew 6:19-23:

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

I could never have imagined at the beginning of the year when I made this resolution how appropriate it would be today as I write about this portion of it.

Yesterday, I attended the viewing of a man in our stake who died of an unexpected heart attack. He was in his early 50's, had just been to the doctor and been pronounced fit as a fiddle, was losing weight and feeling great.

He was the Bishop of his ward, and I had been the High Council adviser for his ward when I first was called to my current calling. He was a wonderful, humble, caring, kind man.

His wife had been cancer free for just over a year. During her treatment, while he served faithfully as a Bishop, their ward rallied around them in wonderful ways, giving incredible love and service and strength to both of them in their trial. Everyone had become reconciled to the possibility of her death, so his was a true shock. His son flew home for the weekend, after which he will return to finish his mission. In the words of our Stake President, "None of them would have it any other way." I spoke with his wife briefly at the viewing yesterday, and something she said has been weighing on my mind ever since. She said, essentially:

He lost his mother about six weeks ago, and his aunt passed away five days later. We had reached peace with death and were focused on life. I know it will be hard in a couple of weeks when everyone gets back to their own lives and I am alone to deal with not having him here, but I believe in the Atonement, the Plan of Salvation and the promises of the temple. It will be hard, but I will be OK.

What I want to share from this experience is not related directly to those things she mentioned at the end (the Atonement, Plan and temples), but something else that she said at the beginning - being at peace.

As much as anything else, when I die I want to be at peace with death - but I also want to be at peace with my life. I don't want to be bitter or angry or upset before I die; I want to be at peace.

I believe that is up to me - that it is my responsibility. The natural man inclination is to blame others for our feelings - for whether or not we are at peace. I understand the necessity for anger, grief and/or cognitive dissonance when certainty is shattered, ambiguity accelerates and testimony is tried. I really do get that need. However, reconciliation of some kind that leads to peace and charity is critical.

I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I had a universal answer. The only answer I have is that there is peace in letting go - that there is peace in cutting others slack - there is peace in real charity - there is peace in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There isn't always peace in the human organizations in which that Gospel is interpreted and taught, just as there isn't always peace in even the most ideal families, but the peace the Gospel brings can influence and strengthen the peace that then can be brought individually into the Church - the community of spiritual family.

I hope I or my wife never has to deal with what this good Bishop's wife is experiencing right now and in the near future. I hope we die together, at a ripe old age. More than that, however, I hope that when either of us dies, the other is at peace - because she or I simply has become a peaceful person.

As I strive to be a peacemaker and, thereby, to be called a child of God, I understand that the first peace I must influence and create is within my own heart and soul - that I can't spread peace externally unless I am at peace internally. For those who now are not at peace, I hope they can look for peace even before understanding. That might seem counter-intuitive at first, but I believe peace can bring understanding - and that understanding, in and of itself, rarely brings peace - largely because the quest for understanding never ends. Peace, on the other hand, can last and endure even during circumstances that cannot be understood - like the unexpected death of a good Bishop.

God bless you, Denny. You will be missed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Parental Roles: The History and the Ideal

Children carry with them the continuation of the species and all things associated with society. Therefore, the greatest responsibility any parent has is the proper raising of his or her children. With this in mind, from a religious standpoint, there are two "primary responsibilities" of parenthood when it comes to children - 1) providing for the body; and 2) providing for the spirit.

Biologically, however, it is only the care of the body that is acknowledged. From that perspective, since physical nurturing is a very natural extension of pregnancy and early infancy, women historically and biologically are given that as their "primary role" for their children, with men assuming the overall responsibility for physical "support" that allows the pregnant and new mother to focus on the child who cannot live without his mother's nourishment. In this context, man's role has been to make woman's role possible.

Remember, throughout history, providing for the physical well-being of family alone often required full-time focus - from at least the mother and often the father, as well. However, the female role generally was tied absolutely to the child, while the male role was less tied to the physical location of the child. It is a conceit of riches that allows such responsibility now to be split or accomplished part-time.

In modern terms, man's primary responsibility has been to provide, and woman's primary role has been to nurture. When "spiritual care" is introduced into the picture, there is no such biological delineation. There is no "natural" nurturer or provider in spiritual terms. Therefore, it is critical to make allowances to the historic, biological separation of primary roles when raising children within a religious setting.

Interestingly, spiritual care is not mentioned explicitly in terms of spousal roles in "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". What it addressed is the physical care of children only. Further, due to the wide range of familial situations in our modern world, it softens the historical roles by adding two critical addenda:

1) "In these roles, husband and wife are to act as equal partners.”

2) “Individual adaptation” is fine whenever possible and appropriate.

This individual adaptation from the general, historical model to an appropriate personal arrangement is the ideal - structured to provide proper care of combined partnership, but flexible enough to allow for personal choice in unique implementation.

It always amazes me when people criticize "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" in regard to this particular issue, since it is an amazingly concise statement of both the historical reality and the modern ideal.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Trying to Put It All on the Altar

The past several months have taught me – as has thinking through and writing this post – that few of us ever truly do so; most of us, most of the time, are still holding something back, not really putting it all on the altar, not really cutting off the hand. And perhaps that’s a fault of our human nature, the fact that we will always be trapped within our perspective, our subjective self-understanding: maybe we can’t know if we’re actually putting it all on the altar or not. All I can say is that, for now, I’m trying.

Russell Arben Fox - Comment #41 on Auld Lang Sin (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Removing the Masks We Wear to Church

In Mormon Masks (Mormon Matters), Hawkgrrrl describes social masks and discusses how that concept is applicable at church. She then asks:

"Is this a particular problem in the Church?"

The following is my response:

Absolutely, but it’s a problem in any organization or society. It is the “natural (wo)man” - a self-protection mechanism that is as ingrained into humanity as any other natural inclination. Our particular challenge in church, I believe, is to recognize it as such and rise above it - to change it (repent) by an active exercise of will. (to act and not to be acted upon)

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

In “Concern for the One”, Elder Wirthlin articulated clearly that some leave active participation and lose faith because they act, think or feel different than others - and he told the majority that it was their responsibility to love and accept the minority for who they are, NOT for who the majority might naturally want them to be. He said that every voice (every instrument) needs to be heard, NOT that every member should learn to play the piccolo (or piano - *grin*).

I believe we will become Zion only as we let go of the need to wear masks - and I believe the primary responsibility for this lies not with those who feel different but with those from whom they feel different. Yes, the "one" needs to be engaged actively, but the "ninety and nine" need to love and accept the "one" for that to happen. The biggest problem in this regard within the Church is NOT the gay member, or the illegal immigrant member, or the politically different member, or the bearded member, or the colored-shirt and no tie member, ad infinitum. The biggest problem is the fact that those distinctions are drawn in a way that excludes those members from the fellowship of oneness with the saints. Although those who are excluded might share a portion of responsibility for being excluded, as often as not the primary responsibility lies with those who do the excluding.

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Discovering Meaning in Life

"I had a very powerful internal physical feeling that life was completely meaningless back when I was an atheist. Now I have the opposite feeling deeply in my bones, that every situation, every tiny act and every fleeting moment have meaning far beyond my ability to comprehend. Somehow since developing a partnership with God, this has happened to me. It’s not something I chose. It’s as physical as an adolescent’s developing sexuality. As physical as suicidal depression. It just happened.

I think the meaning of life, rather than being any sort of intellectual left-brained thing, is just this physical feeling, the joy of drawing breath, of looking, of being alive.

How I ache for those who don’t feel it."

Written by Tatiana: Comment #12 from Four Minutes of Meaning - SteveP (By Common Consent)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Commenting in Church

As much as everyone might laugh when I say this, I struggle with the urge to comment too much in church. (I know; I made up for it with my blogging.) I think the reason I struggle in church is two-fold:

1) There really is an incredibly wide range of understanding and maturity in any adult class at church. It is so hard to say something that everyone will understand and no one will misunderstand - and I don’t want to cause serious misunderstanding and/or offense. While that is true to a degree with blogging, there is a self-selection process that tends to weed out most of those who can’t handle dissenting opinions. Therefore, it’s much harder to surprise someone with something they have never considered previously and risk hurting their testimony.

2) Given my current calling and education, I am seen as one of the “experts” in our ward (and even more so in the tiny branch we attended recently). Therefore, when someone asks a question that results in silence, the teacher tends to ask me - which makes me hesitant to comment at other times. I still comment, but it makes me hesitate.

I also use the "importantly incorrect and/or dangerous doctrine rule". (When something is said that is so incorrect that it is dangerous, it needs to be corrected as quickly as possible.) If I think a comment fits that classification, I will comment every time - as gently as I can, but directly - and usually waiting to see if anyone else jumps in to comment first.

Finally, the truly ironic thing about my situation is that my callings give me an aura of “conservatism” or “authority” - even though many of my views would be challenged by some as “liberal” if it weren’t for my callings. I think that is sad, but I understand why it is so.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pardon the Narcissism: A Limited Farewell to the Group Blogs

For the past two years (almost), I have been an active blogger - to say the least. (*grin*) Actually, to be more precise, I have been a VERY active blogger. OK, that is an understatement.

That has changed over the last three weeks. The internal drive simply has begun to fade, and this change has corresponded to the impending change in my employment situation. I am in the process of changing careers (to something I have wanted to do for a while), and it will take time and focus to be successful in this new stage of my life. I also might be moving with my family to an area where we will need to spend time integrating into a new community, a new ward and a new stake.

I still will maintain this blog, hopefully with the same focus and format as I do now. I still want to post daily, as I find great joy and peace and meaning in doing so. I simply will be cutting way back on my participation at the group blogs I have frequented so regularly for the past two years. In many ways, I will miss that participation.

I have learned SO much in the last two years, especially about the wonderful group of people who struggle with something (sometimes many things) about the Church and/or the Gospel but continue to serve faithfully - or, at least, who strive to understand and remain involved. I have come to value deeply Elder Wirthlin's amazing message in his April 2008 General Conference address, "Concern for the One". (This talk has become my favorite of all time.) Among other things, this humble man of God said:

Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

This variety of creation itself is a testament of how the Lord values all His children. He does not esteem one flesh above another, but He “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.”

Over the last two years, I have blogged publicly largely with these members - those who have been hurt in one way or another because they look, THINK or are different. I have felt a connection to them and their concerns - in some ways, more deeply than I have felt almost any connection in my entire life. The one thing that has weighed the most heavily on my mind and heart about my upcoming reduction in blogging time is the accompanying cessation of my active fellowship with many of the people I have come to love so much.

I never have actively "marketed" this personal blog, and I don't intend to do so in the future. I hope those who have been faithful readers up to this point continue to read; I hope they share this blog with others; I hope what I write will benefit someone, somehow, somewhere - and I hope sometime in the future I will be able to resume a degree of participation on the group blogs. I have enjoyed and learned from it more than I have words to express.

So, in closing, may we do all we can, in whatever way we can, to be a force for good - to be charitable in our communications - to think before we speak and edit before we comment - to see God in those around us and with whom we communicate - to become more Christ-like in a very conscious, intentional way. May those who struggle be blessed by our acceptance, understanding and love. May they feel God's love through us. May the world be better because of our blogging, and may God smile when he sees how we treat His children - our brothers and sisters.

May there be a road - and may we travel joyfully together along it (carrying for and succoring each other) as we make our way back home.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Creeds and the Trinity

The nature of the creeds, their evolution within Christian theology, and how they inform Catholic vs. Protestant doctrine is a very complex discussion, and it varies radically according to which creed is being cited and which creed each Christian accepts. Just for the record, I believe strongly that the “creeds” mentioned in the First Vision are not the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athenasian Creed, but rather are the Westminster Confession and other more modern Protestant Creeds. Those were the primary creeds of the religions about which Joseph prayed, and those are the statements that include elements which are anathema to Mormon doctrine. I wish that was better understood, so we (Mormons) could move away from silly arguments over ancient creeds with which we actually agree more than disagree. (There is nothing within the Apostles Creed that is opposed to Mormon doctrine, and there is very little in the Nicene Creed and Athenasian Creed that even is questionable.)

I believe strongly that we need to embrace others no matter their beliefs, practices and religious affiliations, but we can’t compromise our doctrinally unique beliefs.

For example, the “mysteries” of the trinity can be argued ad infinitum; personally, I think we are very similar to other Christians in most of the ways we can talk about the Trinity. However, I believe those similarities pale in comparison to the underlying difference encapsulated in how we view Godhood - especially our belief that God, the Father, is an actual, physical father (with a body of flesh and bones), we are His actual children in a real and tangible way and we have the capability of becoming like Him. Even that last phrase alone draws a clear distinction between us and the rest of Christianity when we discuss the Trinity.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Speculation on Marriage: Creating a Complete Whole

My wife and I are so perfect for each other partly because we are so naturally different in so many ways. I really don't know if "Godhood" is the joining of an actual "male" being with an actual "female" being creating a complete "godly" being, but it certainly rings true to me that "Godhood" is the state of becoming "complete, whole, fully developed" as "perfect" is defined in Matthew 5:48. I personally think that means we only can become perfect by developing all good characteristics generally associated as "natural" to either man or woman. I know in my own marriage I have been able to learn how to "become" more complete, whole and fully developed because I interact regularly with someone who is very different than I.

Maybe gender is an essential characteristic specifically because it is "naturally" limited and requires growth and combination and adaptation - the very process we preach as the development of Godhood. Perhaps we need a spouse to reach Godhood specifically because it might be impossible for some (or all) to fully escape our natural characteristics and become complete, whole and fully developed on our own.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

Protecting Ourselves from Our Past

A friend once wrote the following on her blog:

"I need to be willing to protect myself from my past to prevent its influence on my future."

That is one of the most profound comments I have read on any blog. It captures perfectly my view of the heart of repentance - and it is SO difficult without constant attention, which, in turn, makes it difficult to keep it at bay and in the past. Talk about a paradox.

In order to leave the past behind and pursue perfection, we need to actively consider, construct and pursue a new present - one that will build a more sure future. It's not just about avoiding degrading things, as important as that is; it's about developing a Christ-like heart and life.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Foundations of Judging

My New Year's Resolution this month is taken from Matthew 7:1-5 and Matthew 6:19-23. I will address the first passage today, the second passage next week, then try to tie them together the rest of the month.

Matthew 7:1-5 says:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

In the JST, the first verse has been altered slightly to read:

Judge not unrighteously . . . but judge righteous judgment.

Just as a starter this month:

My favorite definition of "righteous" is "right with God" - so when dealing with judging righteously, my best definition would be to judge as God would judge. Phrasing it that way is critical to me, as it is the very foundation of how I see the command and its application for me - for the following three reasons, especially:

1) I believe we simply don't see the big picture AND don't understand others well enough to judge as God judges - so we are commanded simply not to judge.

2) I try to be analytical and strive to understand, but I try just as hard to avoid "judging" (acting as a judge and pronouncing a sentence based on guilt or innocence) - because I simply don't know exactly why most people think and do what they think and do OR exactly how accountable they are for their thoughts and actions.

3) I want to be judged with extreme leniency, so I try to be as charitable and non-judgmental as possible. That alone is worth contemplating regularly.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Creeds: "They Are Right, 'Cause, You Know, They Just Are."

I don't know how many times in my life I have had a Christian friend or acquaintance say something similar to the following when I share with them a teaching that is peculiarly Mormon:

While there are no logical fallacies in your argument, and while the body of biblical verses you present make a compelling argument, this is not a belief to which I would hold tightly - as it simply is not true.

I think you will understand and pardon my incredulity a bit when discussing the nature of God with others when this summary is quite typical of my experiences over the last twenty-plus years. I get that answer all the time - essentially that:

Your argument makes sense when you put it that way, but . . . darn it . . . it just isn't right . . . 'cause . . . you know . . . the Bible doesn't really mean that . . . 'cause . . . you know . . . the fathers who wrote the creeds clearly didn't believe it . . . and . . . you know . . . they were right . . . 'cause . . . you know . . . they were right.

I even had one evangelical friend tell me that it doesn't really matter what is "implied" in the Gospels, since Paul "repeatedly" taught otherwise. My response (that I think my view is the dominant theme of the entire Old Testament, that it is taught even more clearly in the words attributed directly to Jesus, and that, therefore, the words of Paul and the other disciples should be interpreted in that light) was answered by citation of the creeds and the later Church fathers - and around and around and around we went.

I respect others' points of view greatly; I really do. I'm not arguing here that I am right, and others are wrong; I'm really not. I'm just saying that I find it highly ironic that those who tell me I can't be sure of my position "because it isn't Biblical" say that essentially by focusing on different verses and authors than I do (almost always later authors and theologians and often over the words attributed to Jesus himself) - not by illustrating that my interpretation of the Bible is, in fact, undeniably wrong. To add to that irony, they deny my ability to be sure in the surest, most confident tones - essentially saying:

"You can't be sure, because I'm sure you can't be sure."