Friday, July 31, 2009

Our Complaints Generally Are Far More Arrogant Than We Realize

I think we usually underestimate what the "condescension of God" really entails. When we get a sense of what it means for a God to become "as one of us" and allow us to “be ye therefore perfect” (“heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ”), it really is a fascinating thing to ponder how arrogant our complaints generally are.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Non-Creedal Christianity

Many people (including many non-LDS religious scholars) classify Mormons as “non-creedal Christians” specifically because we allow a degree of doctrinal flexibility and fluidity that simply baffles those who are tied tightly to their own creeds - those who want to know the full and complete word of God by what has been said in the past.

We, on the other hand, have no doctrinal problem with competing beliefs among apostles and prophets concerning things that have not been revealed in canonized scripture - and even among some things that we consider to be non-revealed parts of that canon. Therefore, for every “Brigham Young said . . .” there is a “Parley P Pratt said . . .” - and for every “Bruce R McConkie said . . .” there is a “Gordon B Hinckley said . . .” That’s fine, since we believe many of the details have not been revealed yet, even though the proper framework has been restored. In the face of competing speculations, the general rule is follow the one being said in our own time - as that represents the understanding of our own time.

The contrast between such an incredibly liberal theology and such a clearly conservative hierarchy - and between a widely divergent local lay ministry and a highly correlated central authority - just confounds most people. I happen to love it, since it embodies "I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves" so well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Multiply, Hide or Reject: The Parable of the Kingdoms of Heaven

Luke 19:26-27 is the final statement of a parable that describes the eternal fate of those who multiply what they have been given and those who don’t. As a third category, there is the additional comment in vs. 27 about those who simply won’t allow God to rule over them - those who reject Him completely, knowing He should be there ruler. (It is apparent from the wording [”would not that I should reign over them”] that it was an intentional choice they made.)

This parable of the pounds is used almost exclusively to discuss the idea of multiplying what one is given, but it is used rarely to illustrate the Mormon view of the various kingdoms of God.

In our terminology, the people who are ordered killed in the parable (verse 27) are the equivalent of the only ones we believe will receive spiritual death (complete removal from even the influence of God and total subjection to the devil) in what we term Outer Darkness - those who knew their ruler and simply refused to accept His reign.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Teasing: Can I Do It While Following the Golden Rule

I am an instinctive tease. I was raised with five sisters and now have four daughters, and that hasn't helped curb my teasing nature. There are times when I have gone overboard very obviously, and I have felt real remorse at those times, but my resolution this month has made me ask the very fundamental question:
Can I tease someone else, even if I smile when I do so, and still follow the Golden Rule?

I have little time right now, so I only will leave my initial reaction:

Perhaps, but only if it is done in a way that causes NO pain to the person I am teasing.
That can be hard to determine, so I should be extremely careful in doing so - if I can do so at all.

I really would like input on this question from anyone who reads this post.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Difficulty of Responding When Wearied

In working with people with whom we disagree and who disagree with us, I believe everything can be worked through in patience and understanding as long as no axe is actively being ground in the process - i.e., as long as nobody is going into the discussion with the intent to tear down or belittle someone else. I truly enjoy discussions that include fundamental differences of opinion - where many different perspectives are included, since I learn so much from viewpoints I wouldn't consider on my own. However, I don't enjoy attacks and broadsides, since (as a Mormon) I've dealt with them for decades. I sometimes react forcefully to that type of comment, simply because I have heard every possible permutation for too long to worry about counting. They weary me, and I sometimes forget how "new" they are to others.

I don't want anyone to muzzle himself or hold back her honest feelings in blog posts out of a fear of offending. As long as the statement is honest and expressed in a non-hyperbolic and non-ridiculing manner, I want to hear it. If the statement is disingenuous or "twisted" or obviously inflammatory, I don't. The key, I believe, is trying even harder to make sure responses are calm and measured - especially when we are "wearied".

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spiritual Unity Amid Intellectual Diversity

If your own perspectives and beliefs put you at intellectual odds with a portion of the membership at large, welcome to my world (and the worlds of many others). It hasn’t stopped me (and them) from serving visibly in the Church and enjoying the blessings of the Restored Gospel. That’s part of the paradigm shift that happens with many - that there really can be a fulfilling marriage of spiritually connective unity and intellectually divergent individuality.

I can read Rough Stone Rolling and bless Bro. Bushman for having strengthened my testimony by writing it, while I worship next to someone who views it as blasphemous - and not see that as a problem in the moment. I can believe in various political ideas, while worshiping with others who disagree with many of those ideas - and not be concerned unduly about it. The Church encourages unity of thought about very few things, in reality, and even in those cases it recognizes various levels of understanding and perspective.

Think about the temple recommend interview questions. Not one of them asks about what we think about the topics being addressed - how we construct our own paradigm concerning the questions being asked. Rather, all of them simply are basic yes/no questions - essentially, “Do you accept this basic tenet of the Restored Gospel and/or try to live this basic principle?” The details of how you get there and how you construct your world-view outside of the questions never is addressed. Those questions are between you and God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

According to the Dictates of Their Own Conscience

It is way too easy for people to believe they know what others "should" do and believe - and that "should" nearly always aligns with what the first person is doing or believing. I have a deep and abiding testimony of the Restoration, and it gives me incredible peace and joy. I really do think that the world would be a glorious place if everyone in it understood what I understand and felt the peace and joy I feel.

Having said that, what I want most for myself and my children is to be able to believe what I believe and live spiritually as I want to live - without ridicule and with acceptance of my choice even when that choice is not what others desire. I want to "follow the dictates of [my] own conscience." My understanding of the pre-existence and the second great commandment compels me to "allow (others) the same privilege."

I might have a hard time understanding someone else's decision when it is different than mine, and that difficulty is exacerbated when that decision is to walk away from what I hold so dear, but I think it is this situation precisely that tests how strongly I truly believe what I say I believe.

Jesus stressed this basic point in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, "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?" (Matt. 5:46-47)
If we understand and feel sorry only for those who never had any understanding of the Restoration, but don't have that same empathy for those who don't accept or have left the Church, we really are no different than the examples Jesus offered. I would submit that this is a lesson that everyone needs to learn - the power of full empathy and respect for the agency of all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doing Unto Others - When They Are Liars or Otherwise "Undesirable"

With our family's move this week, I haven't had much time to consider my resolution for this month. However, I have had an interesting experience since we arrived in our new home town that has made me think about it in an interesting light.

We arrived Wednesday evening and unloaded the car and van, leaving the moving truck to tackle on Thursday. I opened the truck late Thursday morning and started taking out the smaller stuff - the things my kids and I could do before anyone else arrived to help. As we started unloading it, a boy pulled up on his bike and offered to help. He said it was his father's birthday - and that he would like to earn a little money to get him something. I sensed right away that the kid was lying - that it wasn't his dad's birthday, but I also sensed that he was lonely and didn't want to be home. Therefore, I told him he could help - and he pitched in and worked hard for a couple of hours.

He has been back each day since to help some more, and I have become convinced that he is a reflexive liar - and also that he can be mean to kids who cross him. I also have become convinced that his home life is not very good. The interesting thing to me is that despite these feelings, I also am convinced that I don't want to stop him from coming over and associating with us. I sense a goodness in him more fundamental than the other stuff.

I got off the phone a few minutes ago with someone in town we met when we were house hunting, where I explained about this kid. Her immediate response was, "He's a thief and a liar and has a mean streak. Don't let him be around your kids." The conversation confirmed what I had felt, but as she described him I had a sudden flash of insight into my resolution this month to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. My thought was:

"How would I want someone else to treat me if I were this young man? Would I want someone I had just met to shun me because of my reputation? Even more importantly, if I likened this situation to the Gospels, what kind of story would be told of how Jesus would have interacted with this young man?"

I am debating internally exactly what I should do - exactly what I should say to this boy. I am wavering between a couple of options, but I know that I can't shun him and send him away. First, that's not what the DeGraw Hotel is about; second, I can't get past the feeling that this young man is redeemable - that he is a child of God and needs to have someone treat him as such.

In the end, I want to do unto him properly - and I think I know how I am going to do that. I pray I will be inspired - that what I decide to do will help him. At the very least, I am grateful for my resolution this month, as it has prompted me in this case to see the worth of the soul in someone it appears others have written off as undesirable - at the ripe old age of 12.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are Liberal Mormons Real Mormons?

I believe that the practice of our religion doesn't have to vary as much as our perceptions can and do. I really don't care in the end if the person sitting next to me in church is a "liberal Mormon" or a "conservative Mormon", as long as they are practicing Mormon - even if they are unbaptized but practicing - even if they are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and not fully active but striving to reconcile their own dissonance. (For example, I would rather worship in our pews and learn in our other meetings and associations with an excommunicated gay man who lives the Gospel to the absolute best of his ability than with a baptized member who is a hypocrite and doesn't even try to live the Gospel.)

I am one of those who drives many skeptical intellectuals nuts, since I am so adamant in my ability to say, "I know." On the other hand, I also drive some conservative members nuts, since I am so adamant in my inability to say, "I know" about some things - and my inability to expect others to be able to say "I know" about anything. Frankly, however, I admire those who can't be comfortable saying they "know" the Church is true but live the precepts and attend faithfully every bit as much as those who can make that claim based on powerful, miraculous experience - since, in the end, it is by our faith and our fruits (not our stated beliefs) that we shall be known. ("Not everyone that sayeth unto me, "Lord, Lord . . .") Also, I have a deep admiration for anyone who can live the life they want to believe but struggles to do so, since I believe that is the ultimate example of true faith ("the substance of things hoped for").

"Are liberal Mormons real Mormons?" Certainly, as long as they are trying their hardest - to the best of their ability - to "Come unto me," "Keep my commandments," "Take my yoke upon you," etc. I'm just saying it's not my place, since I currently am not a bishop, to make that judgment about anyone else - even by slapping a label on them, since it's true of ALL Mormons regardless of label.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Frame of Reference Is All I Have

"It is true that the child’s stubbed toe might not be that big of a deal, and by extension that all our mortal trials are but a small moment, but I do not think that means we should devalue the struggle. I have a tendency to beat up on myself when I find things hard. “This should be easy” I tell myself, or “this isn’t really such a big deal, compared with the trials of others.” Well, it may be a small frame of reference, but it is my frame of reference, and it is all I have.

In the big picture, my pain may be small, but that doesn’t make it any less valid or any less painful. A person with a broken foot is still suffering, even if someone on the other side of the world just saw their family killed and walked miles and almost died of starvation. I think it is not a useful exercise to compare pain or trials in that way, but to feel true compassion for all who are in pain."

Comment #16 by Silver Rain on Trials - Stephen Marsh (Mormon Matters)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Inexpressible Moments of Connection

There have been many instances where I was confident someone understood what I was saying, but about the only times when I knew - with absolute certainty - that someone understood exactly what I was feeling were when I didn't say anything.

The very first time I kissed my girlfriend - and when she handed me our first son nearly six years later; when our second son's appendix burst and our eyes met as they wheeled him into the operating room; when my greenie companion bore his testimony in English as I translated into Japanese, and the 2-year-long investigator burst into tears as the Spirit throbbed palpably; when one of my Primary students hugged me before church; etc. I believe that those who have experienced such inexpressible moments of connection
will understand my limited ability to translate those feelings - and my joy in the memories.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Subtle Hypocrisy

We too often are to others what others are to us.

If we can’t control our own feelings or actions toward those with whom we disagree, we have no standing to condemn them for not being able to control their feelings or actions toward us. For example, if we as Mormons speak in universal and stereotypical ways about evangelicals or Jehovah's Witnesses or anti-Mormon activists, we can't complain if they speak in those same ways about us.

We also can’t put the burden of understanding and love on them; we need to pick up that burden ourselves and model it to the best of our ability.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Being Creatively Honest

My father was a brilliant man when I lived in the Deep South. When I had a particularly pointed criticism or comment that I felt needed to be shared, I often couched it in the common terms of that area, "My daddy used to say . . ." I wasn't quoting his actual words, so it usually wasn't "true" literally, but it was more polite - and that was important in that culture.

My father is not classically educated, but he is the very definition of wise and filled with common sense. He rarely sounds academic or intellectual, but he also rarely sounds ignorant. In many ways, "My daddy used to say . . ." would be translated more accurately as, "My daddy taught me that . . ." That, however, would not have sounded so familiar to the hearers - so I didn't draw that distinction.

I have thought often since then about what "honesty" really means at the root level - and particularly about the possibility of being creatively honest. It's been an interesting process.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Silent Saturday

I have been working in Missouri for the last month, while my family has remained in Cincinnati and prepared to move. (Yes, I understand completely that I had the easy part.) Last night, I returned to Ohio for the move next week.

I haven't seen my family in three weeks, and, as much as I love those who come here and read the thoughts I record, you just aren't a top priority today. Sorry. *grin* Therefore, I am dubbing this day, "Silent Saturday". (and it is, since I actually wrote this on Thursday and post-dated it - It's like cosmic light from Kolob; you see it long after it has eminated from its creator.)

So, to everyone who came here expecting something profound, I apologize; it ain't here today. All I have on Silent Saturday is:

Being able to spend time with your spouse and children is a precious gift.
Don't squander it.

I'm not squandering a moment of it this weekend. See you Monday.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Men Don't Cry

Growing up, although it was not taught by my father, I heard “Men don’t cry” regularly. I, however, cry regularly when I am moved by the Spirit. (and before anyone trumpets the obligatory rejoinder, I understand very well the difference between what I just said and emotional manipulation) For me, as a male in our society, it is easier to accept sharing personal experiences that are positive than negative, since crying about the positive is seen as a sign of “spiritual sensitivity”, but crying about the negative is seen as a sign of weakness.

I think that’s a terrible shame.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rural, Suburban and Inner-City Understanding of the Atonemnet

I was raised in dairy and farm country. I have seen animals killed individually - including "beloved" animals, those that might even have been considered pets to certain kids. I have seen the pain in the face of a father who had to "sacrifice a loved one" - and I have heard the discussion of why that sacrifice had to be made in order to sustain life.

I was educated at a liberal arts college in the East. I attended a few Divinity School classes and participated in very deep intellectual discussions about Jesus' suffering and death. I know that this is a serious over-generalization, but, in general, the Atonement was much more tangible to the uneducated kids on the dairy than to those who were studying to be ministers at the Divinity School. The Divinity School students could talk about it more impressively, but the dairy kids felt it in a completely different way. The students understood it in their minds; the dairy kids felt it in their eyes (the pain of watching something die) and their hands (the pain of sacrificing a loved one).

I have worked in the inner-cities for much of the past 12 years. Most of the kids I have worked to help have no concept of dairy and farm life, but many of them understand pain and suffering and death in ways I probably (hopefully) never will. When they accept the Gospel, many of them bring a depth of understanding that is amazing to see - far beyond my own. They couldn't last 30 seconds in a theology class, but I dare say they understand the Atonement better than my fellow students and I did. The students were divorced from death and suffering; the inner-city kids knew each to their core.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What the Golden Rule Does NOT Say

My resolution this month is taken from Matthew 7:9-12, a slight change in my original plan. (See here.) These verses state:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a
stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then,
being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall
your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask
him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do
ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

The wording of my resolution is:

"Treat others how I want to be treated."

I want to make one point in this first post about something I have heard over the years. It is something that has bothered me over time, and I want to state up front what I believe this verse does NOT say - what I believe is a classic case of "wresting" scriptures and creating meaning that never was intended.

I have heard it said of old (*grin*) that we should treat others in whatever way will help them best. After all, this reasoning goes, deep down we really want whatever is best - so if we know what is best for someone, we should do all we can to help them see, recognize, understand and accept that which is best for them. This argument asserts that it's better to treat someone how they "really" want to be treated (often subconsciously) than to treat them how they "think" they want to be treated - that I, as an enlightened individual, know what is best for them and, therefore, I, as an enlightened individual, should treat them as if they were in my shoes.

To try to say it differently, this approach to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is based on you placing yourself in their situation and transferring your own hopes and dreams and expectations on them. While this might sound reasonable and even praiseworthy at first glance, there are at least three problems with this approach that I can see immediately:

1) It is used often as a justification for aggressive action, pressure and even compulsion. At the most extreme, it allowed those in charge of the Inquisition to torture people into confessing non-existent sins - since those doing the torturing were convinced they only were doing what was best for the person being tortured by "cleansing" them of sin and freeing them for a more benevolent judgment in the afterlife. At a more common level, it is used to justify constant and inconsiderate preaching and attempts to convert others - unfortunately, even among our own membership. Again, the reasoning is, "If I didn't have the Gospel in my life, I would want someone to preach it to me even if I didn't want to hear it."

2) It totally ignores and discounts the actual desires of the other person - and illustrates an arrogance that is couched in terms of love but, literally, is judgmental and condescending. In essence, it says, "I know better than you what you need, and I'm never going to quit trying to make you see that, no matter what you want."

3) It simply isn't what is commanded in these verses - to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I want to finish with that last point, and I want to do so by focusing on the reaction of nearly every LDS member who has a friend, family member, acquaintance or stranger who disagrees with Mormonism, believes Mormons are not Christian and is saddened at the thought of Mormons ending up in Hell. If that person really is sincere in his concern, and if he really thought that constant badgering might convince you of the error of your ways, would you appreciate him preaching at you every time you were together? Would you appreciate her non-attendance at your wedding reception, since she believes your sealing in the temple is a sham and not recognized by God? Would you appreciate her constant, subtle (or blatant) warnings about your eternal condemnation? Deep down, on a very practical level, what would you really, truly want from her - how would you want her to "do unto you"?

I submit that all of us, at the most basic level, want little more than acceptance and respect and love for who we actually are - recognition that we are capable of making our own decisions - friendship that is genuine and not tied to certain conditions - etc. In other words, we want to be treated as equals - as important - as valuable - as legitimate deciders of our own fate, and we want that for who we ARE, not for who others want us to be.

So, the next time you start to say something to someone else, ask yourself, "How would I respond if someone said that, in that way, to me?" The next time you start to write a blog comment, ask yourself, "How would I respond if someone wrote that, in that way, to me?". The next time you start to react to someone in any way, ask yourself, "How would I respond if someone reacted that way to me?" In summary, ask yourself:

How would I feel if someone "did that unto me"?

If you would thank God for that person's words or actions, in the actual circumstances of your real life, "do so unto others". If you would not thank God (or if you would need to pray for forgiveness) for your reaction to that person's words or actions, don't "do so unto others". Finally, if you really would understand this principle, take one entire day and analyze everything according to this standard:

How would I feel if someone "did that unto me"?

If we really focused on that question, I have no doubt we would stop doing and saying much of what we do and say - and start doing and saying many things we currently do not say and do.

That is my resulotion this month - to change my actions in such a way that I answer that question positively more often and negatively less often when analyzing my own actions - to treat others more as I actually want them to treat me.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Malleable Faith and Shattered Knowledge

Often what gets called “faith” is not “faith”. “Faith” is not a certainty; it is “the substance of things hoped for” - and when we divorce “faith” from “hope”, I believe we get a bastardiszed version that can be very destructive.

Fwiw, one of the biggest theological mutations in the current Church that I think needs to be fixed is the over-emphasis on knowledge almost to the exclusion of faith. (I think that’s probably why the brethren seem to be emphasizing grace more and more recently - to return to faith in Him over confidence in self.) If you remove faith from the equation, you remove hope from your perspective - which means that when the black-and-white certainty of supposed knowledge shatters, there generally is no foundation of faith left on which to fall - since “hope” has been removed from the equation.

Malleable faith and hope can grow and be molded into ever-changing shapes as new perspectives are encountered and adapted; kiln-burned knowledge shatters when dropped.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rediscovering Passion in Our Worship

While I loath the tendency with some movements to equate the spirit only with emotionalism, I also am concerned that we have swung to the opposite extreme in our repudiation of the fiery nature of our baptism. Having been raised in rural Utah, this concern did not arise with me until I lived in Boston, Alabama and Ohio - where I saw first-hand people whose "emotionalism" actually was influenced by the Spirit.

Currently, in our ward, there is a man whose testimony is usually expressed in terms of "I just want to give thanks and praise to Jesus and my Heavenly Father" - and it is so cool to hear. I don't want the revivalistic stirring of emotions instead of the Spirit, but when we deny the emotional aspects of our interaction with the Spirit, I believe we risk killing the passion that should accompany our convictions.

I heard a talk recently in Sacrament Meeting that inspired a member of the ward to tell the speaker, "Thank you. I feel like I heard a sermon today." The only difference apparent to me was the obvious passion of the presenter and the pleas within the talk to change the way the members viewed and acted toward each other. Iow, there was real passion invested and expressed in the talk, not merely a dry and peaceful recitation of doctrine. That experience has made me think deeply about the way we teach each other as we express the Spirit we feel.

There is a real danger in playing with fire (allowing emotional manifestations of the Spirit), but there is just as real a danger of freezing from the lack of fire (not allowing them).