Monday, August 31, 2009

My Father's Sweetheart

My parents have been married for almost 50 years, and I have never once heard my father say anything about my mother that even could be construed as negative - not in public, not in the privacy of our own house in front of the kids growing up, not in private conversations with me, not from others from private conversations with him, not ever, not once. I have no doubt he understands her weaknesses better than anyone else in this world, but there is nobody else who knows of them by talking with him.

Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Of Cherries, Olives, Stems and Love

As I wrap up my resolution this month ("Producing Fruits, Not Just Works"), an analogy came to mind that I really like - something which I had not considered previously. I hope it sums up for anyone who reads it how I have come to view the central concept of "by their fruits ye shall know them". (Matthew 7:20)

I grew up in orchard country - processing cherries, picking apples and apricots, eating fruit straight from the vine or the tree. A cherry tree is a great example of the production of fruit, and as I relate the basics in very simplistic terms, I want to draw a simple correlation between the orchards near which I was raised, the allegory of the olive trees in Jacob 5 and the manner in which spiritual fruits are produced in our own lives.

First, the allegory of the olive trees in Jacob 5 talks repeatedly about the Lord of the vineyard pruning, grafting, fertilizing and preparing the olive trees to bring forth good fruit. It is full of action verbs - words that involve active, direct, intensive, careful planning and hands-on work. It is NOT a "natural process" - but, rather, it is a very unnatural process, instigated and completed by connecting branches to trees and hoping the grafts "take". If that happens, fruit is produced.

When you look at a young cherry tree, the most obvious element is the trunk - off of which the rest of the visible form extends. The root system is hidden under the ground, but the branches and limbs and twigs often grow so extensively that they rival the trunk - and, eventually, draw the eye away from the trunk and capture the attention of the observer. What is missed upon first glimpse - and even upon a closer inspection - are the stems that connect the obvious tree to the cherries that hang thereon.

The stem is the tiniest of "appendages" - short, thin elements that sprout almost invisible and from which the actual fruit grows. Until the observer gets really close and pays particular attention to detail, the stem remains hidden - and yet it is through that stem that the life-giving force within the tree creates the fruit that allows the tree to "fill the measure of its creation".

If there is a true vine, and if we are to be the fruit of that vine, we must be connected through a similarly "invisible" stem - the connection through which the sap of life can flow to us and make us the fruit of the vine - that can take our plain, hard seed and create a beautiful, soft, delicious fruit from that seed.

Now, read John 15:1-17 - with a particular focus on exactly what fruit is produced through a connection to the vine. In that context, look at the reference to keeping His commandments - then read Matthew 22:36-40. At the most fundamental level, I believe that being connected to the true vine can be boiled down to obedience to those laws upon which hang ALL the law and the prophets - and allowing the Holy Ghost to make of us whatever fruit we were created to become.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A More Comprehensive Vision of the Murky

I am an analytical believer - meaning I believe first and foremost and analyze based on my beliefs. I just don't care all that much about the specifics of doctrine. I believe we "see through a glass darkly", but that we see more things than others even though those things are seen darkly. In this regard, my most basic difference with many is that I want to see a more comprehensive vision of the murky; many others want only to see what they currently see more clearly.

If I end up seeing more clearly in this life, that is a gift - not an expectation.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

College Life Envy? Not Really.

My second son started college last week, and it got me thinking about my own college experience.

I was an extremely odd student - married as a 22-year-old freshman at a college that had 2 married undergraduates total the year I graduated (the other one of whom was a 68-year-old grandfather who was finishing the degree he had failed to get due to war service). I also was the only undergrad who worked full-time and had children during college. I truly wouldn’t change my education in any way, but I would have liked to have made a connection with a club or extra-curricular group during those years. That’s about the only thing I “envy” about the other students’ experiences.

On the other hand, I am the only one in my graduating class who has been married to the same woman for over 20 years and has 6 biological children, multiple "foster" children and four "foster" grandchildren.

Given the choice between those two possibilities, I guess there is no envy after all.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nuance as a Product of Peace

I have said previously that I love nuanced discussion of differing perspectives, but I am able to take that position largely because of the general peacefulness of my life.

Revolutionaries seldom deal in nuances. I don’t recall a time when the system was threatened seriously by, “He’s really not a very nice man, and we probably could do a bit better by following that other slightly nicer guy over there.” People don’t walk away from tradition and family and security - and stay in hellish situations and intense persecution - because of nuances. They only do that when faced with fleeing ultimate evil or embracing ultimate good. The early saints and prophets saw and taught much in black and white, since they lived in a time of radical change, intense persecution and overwhelming difficulty. Considering, crafting and establishing nuances are left for those who can do so in the relative security of looking back on the revolution.

I am grateful for the time in which I live, where nuance is possible and everything is not black and white - but I do not condemn those whose lives left little room for ambiguity.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sometimes the Fruit Takes Longer to Grow than We Expect

As I have contemplated the concept of fruits vs. works this week, I have had a few experiences that have brought something personal to my attention in a neat way.

We moved from Ohio to Missouri this summer in order for me to change careers. In many ways, it was not an easy move. We had lived in our former ward for 12 years, twice as long as we had lived in any other ward or town/city. We absolutely LOVED our ward and stake. It was the only home most of our children remembered with any degree of clarity, and our two youngest were born there. Our oldest daughter is a senior this year, and that is a brutal time to move - especially when she went from a graduating class of about 900 to one of about 50. To top it all off, we had to pack and move everything on our own (with the wonderful help of friends) - and we had to leave LOTS of stuff behind, which was very hard for my pack rat wife.

Looking back on our move after only one month, however, I have been struck by how divinely directed it was. Of particular relevance to my New Year's Resolution this month is that we have found an inactive woman and two inactive young women already with whom we have clicked on a personal level. Furthermore, because of the distance we are from the church, we will teaching our girls seminary this year. The two inactive young women have said they would like to attend seminary, so a class that we assumed would include only our daughters now will have four young women when we start next week.

I won't share all the details of how this came to fruition, but I have been impressed deeply, once again, at how intimately the Lord knows us - and how glorious the outcome can be if we only are willing to endure to the end and wait to see in hindsight the hand of God in our lives. If we are willing to do more than just the works we would like to do - or just generic good works - or just those things that we understand and are inclined to do naturally, we truly will be able to understand our struggles and recognize the fruit that He has produced through His connection to us. It might take longer than we would want, but the fruit truly can be sweet and unexpected.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Truly a Restoration of ALL Things

The following is going to play to stereotypes slightly, but . . .

I see many similarities between Buddhism and Mormonism - far more than between Mormonism and most of Protestantism.

For example, the concept of becoming like God, the Eternal Father:

1) The Mormon phrasing would be, "Becoming perfect like God (complete, whole, fully developed)," while the Buddhist version would be "joining the divine (and no longer being born)." Compare that to the Protestant "living separately and spending eternity telling God how great He is."

Now consider the concept of the status of other religions:

2) Mormon: "All religions have truth in them, and a level of salvation/exaltation is available to all - regardless of religion - through the Atonement of Jesus Christ." Buddhist: "All roads lead to Fuji." (the concept, not the quote) Protestant: Accept exactly this doctrine (with special qualifications if we don't like you), or burn in never-ending anguish forever."

I'm not saying Buddhist teachings can be overlaid perfectly onto Mormon teachings, but many of them are much closer to each other than either is to mainstream Protestantism.

Look at the description of "eternal existence" from this viewpoint:

We begin as intelligences, become spirits, are born into mortality, move back into a spiritual state, eventually experience a judgment, change into an immortal state of perfect, physical body and immortal soul, continue to progress until we reach a status that can be described as "divine" - and then participate in unity with our own divine ideal by directing that repeated process of others. I count multiple "lives" - each with a distinctly different "form" - as part of a life-cycle that repeats forever.

If I explained that to a Buddhist, she at least would grasp the basic concept; if I explained that to almost any non-Mormon Christian, I would be labeled a heretic and/or asked what hallucinagenic I had been smoking.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Multiple Views of Ancient Scriptural Accounts

There are lots of ways for intelligent, dedicated, faithful Mormons to picture the flood as global, regional or local (or collective) and still attach a redemptive meaning to it. Some things simply can't be determined from the record itself. For example, where exactly did it happen? How tall were the “mountains” in the story (really mountains as we envision them or just large hills?); how isolated and enclosed was the valley they might have surrounded - which would affect water flow and “drainage” rates; what was the general condition of the water table in that area - which would affect “absorption” rates; etc. ad infinitum. (In Ohio, we had areas where there was standing water for months and months and months, since the water table generally is so high. I never would have believed it growing up in Utah, and it really was amazing to see.) Not one of these questions can be answered from the text, yet each is critical to understanding if it could have been a local event.

As to the redemptive value, if we allow that the flood might have been a local experience that wiped out all life in the world as Noah knew it, and if we extend our concept of vicarious work to the event, it is very easy to maintain a redemptive element for the flood - no matter how extensive it actually was.

I am far more comfortable with someone saying, “In light of all of the scientific evidence we now have before us, we ought to be willing to consider that the flood might not have been global,” than when someone says, “Scientific evidence be damned, our theology insists that it just had to be global.” These are ancient stories, and, again, our own Articles of Faith say that we don’t know if they have been recorded, translated and handed down to us in purity. That tells me we need to keep an open mind about other possibilities than the orthodox interpretations. To me, there is absolutely no difference in the significance of the story and its symbolism no matter its scope.

Finally, given the existence of catastrophic flood stories in nearly every ancient culture, might this be a case of Hebrew historians realizing that God had destroyed “all the earth” collectively, over time, by multiple, essentially identical floods - taking such stories and “likening them unto themselves” - assigning spiritual and redemptive meaning to “the collective acts of God” - and creating a central flood narrative to reflect this meaning and transmit it to a people who hadn’t yet experienced it themselves?

I tend to place that option beneath a local flood narrative, but our traditions and scriptures certainly would allow for it - and I personally think there is a lot of power in that view. I don’t want to debate that option, because I’m not willing to put it at the top of the list of possibilities, but I don’t think it would destroy the validity of the spiritual message we can take from it. In some ways, I think it even can strengthen that message - that God is no respecter of persons and will do unto all what He does unto some.

It’s at least worth considering that there are multiple ways to view ancient scriptural accounts without any of them being invalid or less powerful than others - which is the point of this post about MANY of the accounts that are recorded in our scriptures. In many cases, I believe it's more important to take them seriously as an opportunity to consider possibilities and learn multiple lessons than to take them literally and limit that learning to only one possible meaning.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chastity: We Must Focus on the Spiritual, Not the Physical

There are pockets within our society now where the illegitimacy rate is reaching 90%, and sex as an activity divorced from reproduction is just as widespread throughout most of our society. Those who are contributing to that rate (especially men, but also the women who are participating actively by sleeping with and/or bearing multiple children from multiple men) apparently do not place the same degree of value on these things as we do. Until they experience a mighty change of heart that changes their actual behavior, I don’t see that changing - especially if we continue to empower them financially in the name of “taking care of the children.”

As a society, we have trivialized sex to such a degree that we commonly use the term “sexual partner” - which, by its very nature, offers a “legitimate” option to a “wife” or “husband” and reduces “mate” to its biological definition. When “partner” no longer even implies a contract of any kind (but merely contact of a certain kind), I’m afraid the only choices available to change people’s actions are severe social measures (like eliminating welfare payments and/or levying taxes for any children following the first one to someone who was receiving welfare at the time of - or within an established time frame prior to - conception of the additional child) or deep conversion to the Gospel standard of chastity. Given our obsession with enabling illegitimacy and taking care of all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth (a twisted version of compassion, imo), I’m not optimistic that the first will happen; the latter might be the only option - and that is a very difficult thing, as well, since it requires an unyielding call to and acceptance of repentance.

Again, that simply highlights the need to find a way to make an argument that appeals to the spirit, since we are losing the argument with those who are focused on the body. I just don’t see a way to change or “control” sexual behavior if we focus on the physical / political reasons for chastity. We must maintain chastity as a religious principle.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Spirit Really Does Whisper Sometimes the Oddest Things

I want to share an experience this week that really has highlighted again for me how subtle and unexpected the whisperings of the Spirit can be - and then share a thought at the end about how I have come to view inspiration.

I was talking with an acquaintance this week about her family connections to someone else, since I had not realized her maiden name linked her to a prominent family I knew. To my surprise, her response was that she was NOT related to that family - even though she shared their uncommon last name. She is from the family across the river in another town. She then made the following comment, completely on her own:

"Their family is Catholic; we are Christian."

My immediate reaction was to ask why she made that distinction - to point out to her that Catholics are Christians. After all, I have heard that same silly statement all of my adult life about Mormons. However, I had the thought that I should let it pass - so I simply continued the conversation and eventually walked away.

Within a few minutes, I was headed to a meeting and saw another friend. We were headed different directions, but I had the thought that he would get a kick out of her comment - since I assumed he was Catholic. Therefore, I altered my path, joined him and shared that part of the conversation with him - adding at the end that I had heard it all my life about Mormons, but to hear it so blithely about Catholics . . .

His response caught me off guard and made me understand, in a flash of clarity, the source of my thought to share it with him. He said:

"Since I'm with the Community of Christ (former RLDS), I know exactly what you mean."

We didn't talk about that, since we had places to go and meetings to attend, but I had NO idea that he shared my religious tradition to a degree. I had NO idea that my experience would resonate with him in that exact way. I still have NO idea exactly why I need to know he is a member of the Community of Christ. All I know is that the Spirit really does whisper sometimes the oddest promptings at the oddest times.

I have come to believe that I have no idea how often the thoughts that flash through my mind are my own and how often they are not - but I have resolved to follow through as much as I can on EVERY good thought (every thought that is not "bad") that crosses my mind, since I won't know until after the fact if it was merely my own mind or the whispering of the Spirit through a connection to the Vine.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Issue is Not Faith vs. Works: It is Fruits vs. Works

Mormon theology is centered on grace, we just don't use that word much - not nearly enough, in my opinion, although we are using it more and more. We believe in grace completely, but we don't believe in effortless exaltation. Bluntly, we believe the preponderance of the Biblical canon, not just the few verses that seem to imply our effort is pointless.

I approach this topic in a very Biblical way - by distinguishing between "works" (the action of following the law without any conscious thought - "blind obedience" to general counsel given to all) and "fruit" (actions motivated and energized by a connection to the Vine). Our actual theology does NOT preach "works" in this sense; it preaches "fruits". We generally do a lousy job understanding and explaining the difference. We hear "works" and think "fruits" - so we struggle to address the central distinction properly.

In other words, we "waste our lives working" if those works are not what He would want from us - and if those works do not lead us to become more Christ-like. However, if we truly are connected to Him through the Holy Ghost (experiencing what many Protestants would call an "in-dwelling of the Spirit"), our effort to become as He is will transform our actions from "dead works" to "living fruits".

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Experience Is More Important Than Understanding

"I understand the need for trust in God. Trust that He wants only our best and won’t set up for less than that but there are so many things that He cannot tell us right now. Sometimes it is not because we cannot understand. Sometimes we can understand intellectually a lot of things He would like us to know but these are things we have to learn. There is a purpose in learning.

I am currently experiencing a lot of things I knew when I was younger and I feel much closer to God in this state than in my previous state."

Excerpted from I Am a Queen . . . - (Back&then)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Disagreeing Without Contention

I find the following is something I need to remember constantly:

When emotion rules, things get dicey. I have trained myself over the years to overcome much of my natural inclination to argue in a way that attempts to win, but I still find myself doing so occasionally when I’m not careful. On group blogs (and in general), I have found that the faster I respond, the more likely I am to begin contending in a way that is described in the scriptures as "of the devil". (3 Nephi 11:29) I have said some pretty hard-edged things occasionally, and sometimes I should not have done so, but generally I have tried to do so carefully and thoughtfully and slowly - to do so without the heat of emotion that stokes the fire of contention. I force myself to employ a deep breathing technique and to re-read and edit what I type prior to submitting it when I am particularly passionate about an issue.

On the other hand, disagreement, in and of itself, is NOT contention - and I believe that is the biggest misconstruing of the scriptural concept that "contention is of the devil" within the Church. Also, sometimes we must "contend" if our core values and principles truly are being attacked. It is the discernment necessary to distinguish between honest and basic differences, unintentional attacks, intentional attacks, etc. that is difficult to have and maintain.

Summary: If you or someone else or both are listening to each other, sharing honestly and learning from a conversation, there is no contention - regardless of whether or not you agree. If those conditions are not being met - if you essentially are talking past each other, then contention is present. I don’t always succeed, but I try to remove myself from that type of discussion as soon as I recognize that I (and/or the other participant) am not gaining anything new out of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Influence of Culture on the Universal Family of God

My biggest concern whenever people discuss culture and race is that it is almost impossible to have a dispassionate discussion of the central issues that cause contention in the first place - because culture is so tied up in individual perceptions of value and self-worth and community. I really like the “culture as a coat” metaphor, but it is very hard for most people to shed a coat when they feel cold or in need of protection. In other words, people feel naked (or even not themselves) when you remove them from their culture (take away their covering/protecting coat), so they cling to that culture passionately - and often irrationally.

I was raised in rural, central Utah; served a mission in Japan; attended college in Massachusetts, with many friends and acquaintances from other countries around the world; taught high school in southern Alabama; currently live in Ohio. I have worked extensively in the rural Midwest and in the eastern inner-cities. I have been exposed to many cultures, both societal and religious. The one thing I have learned from this experience that is most relevant to this post is that is it next to impossible in a group setting to discuss cultural concerns and not be labeled a bigot or homophobic or a hatemonger, no matter how carefully and narrowly you attempt to do so - specifically because the natural (wo)man feels attacked personally whenever “criticism” is directed to culture.

One example from my occupational history: About 10 years ago, the Ohio legislature decided to enforce a mandate that all 4th Grade students demonstrate reading proficiency before being advanced to 5th Grade. The vast majority of politicians and citizens saw this as a simple attempt to make sure that students were being taught as they deserved to be taught - of holding the educational systems in the state accountable for their performance. However, there was a good-sized minority that saw it as a direct racial attack, since the districts that would have been impacted the most severely were the inner-city districts - and the Black students would have been affected disproportionately. This group felt that it was racist to punish the students for what they perceived as the historical inability of the system to provide them the same quality education that the predominantly White, suburban districts were providing their students. The issue became so contentious that it disappeared completely within one year.

My point is not what most might assume. Honestly, as someone who was knee deep in the issue, I could understand both arguments. There was a degree of validity to each. I believed that there were a number of options that could have addressed both sides’ concerns - that could have brought about an acceptable compromise. It didn’t happen for one reason and one reason alone. Each side took a defensive posture to thwart an attack against its culture and educational perspective - so both sides lost in the end.

I think it failed because of the simple natural man issue - one group feeling attacked and the other group dismissing that feeling as ridiculous simply because they didn’t intend their actions to be an attack. In that sense, there was incorrect evaluation going on in each camp. However, each group felt the other was being insensitive and dismissive - and they were correct in that regard to a degree.

What would have happened ideally? I don’t think the “ideal” was possible, and I don’t want to get into that. I also don’t want to turn this into a political discussion of educational funding and administration, so I can’t answer that here in practical terms. However, conceptually, all it would have taken would have been leaders of each group who were willing to set aside cultural differences, really listen to each other in order to understand and look at the central issues from strictly an educational perspective - to quit making accusations about motivation and simply work out the practical issues. The solution might not have been ideal, but it would have been much better than what happened - which in the end was nothing. I wish they would have spent less time trying to convince the other side they were correct and more time simply trying to understand the valid aspects of the other’s perspective. If they had done that, the outcome might not have changed, but at least nobody would have walked away mad; there would have been a level of racial and cultural understanding that had not existed previously - and still doesn't exist nearly 10 years later. That would have been a wonderful accomplishment.

There is a deep and profound Gospel principle in that example for those who have eyes to see.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Listening FOR the Spirit, Not Just TO It

This week has been interesting as I have focused on my resolution to bring forth fruits, not just works. One thing, in particular, has come to the forefront for me - the need to listen FOR the messages of the Holy Ghost, not just listening TO the Holy Ghost.

Professor Steven Robinson (BYU) wrote a book of which many members are aware entitled, "Believing Christ". The core concept he addressed is the principle that it is FAR more important to believe Christ (meaning to believe what he actually said) than it is to just believe IN Christ (that he is the savior and redeemer). This distinction is critical, since it is possible to believe "in" Jesus at a theoretical / intellectual / even spiritual level without really believing what he said in the scriptures. A good example of this is related to the concept of fruit, works, salvation, etc. - since it is CRYSTAL clear when one parses the Biblical Gospels that Jesus absolutely did NOT teach of easy grace ("confessing His name is all that is required to separate the saved from the damned") but taught openly and clearly and directly about the importance of our actions - that saying you accept Him but not doing what He said we should do is the most fundamental definition of damnable hypocrisy.

My insight this week about bringing forth fruits of the Spirit and not just dead works is that doing what God wants me to do requires MUCH more than merely living my life naturally amid the hustle and bustle of my life and doing whatever the Spirit is trying to say to me. Generally, if I am not actively listening FOR the still small voice - going throughout my activities consciously trying to hear that voice - the "noise" of my life will overwhelm a still, small voice. On the other hand, if my mind consciously is attempting to hear that voice every minute of my waking activities, I can be inundated with impressions that relate to many things - often in the most strange and random times and situations.

This is very similar to something I realized many years ago that has had a major impact on my life. There are some people who say, "I will anything that the Lord tells me to do." There are other people who say, "I will do anything that is good - unless the Lord tells me not to do it." The first is a passive tool - someone who is acted upon, albeit by God. The second is an active seeker of service - someone who is free to act and become an agent unto herself. I want to become the second type of person, and listening FOR the whispering of the Holy Ghost at all times is a part of that process.

The trick for me is to remember to keep my spirit open to inspiration even as my body is engaged in the normal activities of life - activities that often require extreme mental concentration and focus. Finding out how to do that more continually will be the central focus of my effort this week.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"We, the People" - in the Church

I believe that one of the most inspired aspects of the organizational restoration is that “we, the people” run the Church at the local level - and that one of the most dangerous aspects of the organizational restoration is that “we, the people” run the Church at the local level.

I agree that all of us will experience a lack of spiritual leadership at some level, to some degree and at some time in our lives. I believe the ideal is to become the spiritual leader we personally need, not only (or even primarily) for ourselves but also so others in our spheres of influence will not have to experience the lack we did.

When Pres. Hinckley taught - and repeated his teaching - that the strength of the Church is in the testimonies of its members, I believe he was stating not only a belief but also a hope.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Danger of "Should"

I have heard it said that perfection is the enemy of good, since the pursuit of perfection can lead one to be dissatisfied with being good. In my opinion, however, it is not “perfection” that is the enemy of good, but rather the mis-perception of perfection. If we define “perfect” as an absolute requirement of our daily existence and as doing absolutely everything that anyone possibly could do without ever making a mistake (as is the standard outlook in “the world” and many religions), then it really is the enemy of good. If, on the other hand, we define it as “complete” or “whole” (in accordance with the Biblical footnotes), then it becomes the ultimate, eventual result of our striving for good - not an enemy at all.

This perspective allows us to move away from the tendency to evaluate our actions and progress in comparison to what we see others do (and the natural, works-based, Law of Moses competitiveness that accompanies trying to keep up with Bro. and Sis. Jones) and, instead, to move toward a more “grace-based” evaluation of whether or not we are doing all that *we* can do - regardless of whatever anyone else is doing. It also allows us to accept those things we simply can’t change yet and continue to work on those we think we can. After all, we teach that the Atonement of Christ covers what we are unable to do even “after all we can do.”

I think the enemy of good is “should” - when it is applied to what we see others doing around us. We “should” do whatever we are capable of doing - nothing more. We “should” try to find ways to do more than we currently are capable of doing - without guilt or shame if that is not as much as we might want to do. We "should" allow everyone that same effort, without judging them for their incompleteness and imperfection.

So, what should each person do? “Pray for guidance” might sound trite, but it is the only thing that ultimately can determine what we individually “should” do. I can’t do that for anyone else, and neither can anyone else do that for me. All we can do is what works for us - what we feel we are being asked to do. Of course, we follow the general counsel of the prophets and apostles, but how we live our own lives individually is up to us to feel and follow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Monday, August 3, 2009

Inspiration Can Be Found in Many Places

Focusing narrowly on music, it’s hard to sing or listen to “I Stand All Amazed” or Handel’s “Messiah” or Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” (chosen to illustrate the wide diversity of genre) - for the first time, especially - and not feel awe and wonder and joy and peace and insight and love. It’s hard not to feel what have been called the fruits of the Spirit. It’s easy to dismiss it as an “emotional reaction,” but the Spirit touches our emotions as often as He instructs our minds. In fact, we are told that the Lord requires the heart and a willing mind. (D&C 64:34)

I think the key is:

Moroni 7:13 - “But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.”

That definition, coupled with the admonition that follows it to be careful not to reject that which fits this description, opens up a much wider scope for inspiration and the working of the Spirit than many people are willing to allow. It even opens up the kind of inspiration / confirmation that Brothers Eyring have mentioned from their days as scientists. (confirmation of “scientific” truth)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Producing Fruits, Not Just Works

My resolution for this month is taken from Matthew 7:17-20. It is to "bring forth better fruits through a stronger connection to the Vine".

Matthew 7:17-20 says:

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

For the purposes of this first post this month, I want to draw a clear distinction I see between "works" and "fruits". While it is true that MANY verses in the New Testament state unequivocally that we will be judged by our works, I think FAR too many members don't stop and ponder exactly what that means - and I am convinced it doesn't mean just what those words ("judged according to their works") appear to convey when they are parsed in isolation.

An oft quoted verse in the Bible we use to show the need for "works" is James 2:17. It reads:

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

That verse is criticial to blunt the incorrect doctrine of "easy grace" (merely confess His name and be saved), since even the devils Jesus drove from the swine confessed His name, but it is easy to forget that Paul preached adamantly against "dead works".

Two verses (one from the Bible and one from the Book of Mormon) are interesting in how they illustrate the uselessness of "dead works".

Hebrews 9:14 says:

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Moroni 8:23, speaking of infant baptism, says:

But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of
his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.

The point I want to make here is that there are "good works" and "dead works" - those that contribute to "life" and those that don't. Following that train of thought, it is important to distinguish between those things we do that are focused on "God's life" (eternal life) and "my life".

There are numerous passages that discuss the basic concept of living with an eye single to the glory of God - which is defined in Moses 1:39 as "the immortality and eternal life of man". I have come to beleive that the judgment will consist almost SOLELY of a measure of our willingness to let go of those activities ("works") that contribute only to "my life" ("my glory", as understood in mortal terms) and embrace those activities ("works") that contribute to "God's life" (His glory - lifting and raising and empowering and edifying others). I also have come to believe that the personal application of this concept is measured by how comprehensively we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit when it whispers to us - to follow our conscience - to do what we feel we should do when it is different than what we naturally want to do - to be dedicated to becoming more like Christ, no matter how difficult that might be at any given moment.

In conclusion, I would like to draw an analogy to a child in its mother's womb. It grows and develops and progresses when it is connected to its mother's nourishment. A mother, as a "vine", provides life and growth to her child - the "fruit" of her womb. She "produces" it - and to a large degree, she shapes her child's future by the substances she takes into her body and feeds to her child. Much of a child's life is a DIRECT result of the "vine" to which it is connected.

Those "works" that we do on our own are our own, and we "shall in no wise lose (our) reward" for them. However, the only "works" we can do that will have eternal impact and efficacy are those that are produced as a result of a connection to the Vine - that flow from the Spirit, are internalized into our very being and "produce" a more "perfect" (complete, whole and fully developed) soul. The challenge, in my opinion, is NOT to "do more". Rather, the challenge is to "do God's will" - to do what He wants us to do - to become what He wants us to become.

I also am convinced that this is a personal quest - that what he wants ME to do might be very different than what he wants YOU to do - and that I am forbidden to judge you if He produces peaches through me and grapes through you. That lack of judgmentalism (true charity) is one particular fruit of the vine - but my challenge this month is to be more able to understand and do what he wants ME to understand and do. In a nutshell, it is to be more in tune with personal revelation - and to follow it in my life to produce "good works" - the fruit he will share with and through me.