Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Genealogy and Self-Understanding

My ancestors are part of who I am; I am who I am because they were who they were; I cannot understand myself fully without understanding my ancestors - particularly what I inherited from them.

In order to repent and grow toward perfection (completion and wholeness), we need to understand ourselves. Much of that understanding comes as we understand our ancestors - and often learning of our ancestors helps us "remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men", thus softening our hearts and allowing us to feel the confirming power of the Holy Ghost.

I need to know my ancestors, because I need to know myself and my potential as a child of God.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knowledge Should Not Be Over-emphasized: To Others It Is Given to Believe

“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” (D&C 46: 13-14)

If some have to "believe" something as fundamental as that Jesus is the Son of God, then it seems logical to assert that even more are going to have to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet - and myriad other uniquely Mormon teachings.

I have no problem with saying, "I know” about a lot of things - but there also are things that I still believe without yet knowing. I would love to hear more people stand in front of the congregation and say, “I believe . . .”- or even, "I want to believe . . ."

Monday, September 28, 2009

How Important is the Law of Chastity?

Sexual sins have been labeled as "next to murder" by some who interpret Alma's words to his wayward son as applying to all such actions. There is a long conversation that should occur about the actual nature of Alma's criticism of his son's actions (focusing on exactly which action he labeled as next to murder in seriousness), but I want to tackle the general idea of the importance of the Law of Chastity without the baggage of looking at all sexual transgressions as next to murder. I want to address why we stress it so heavily, when many situations are seen as (and actually might be) quite benign.

It’s important to note that perfectly acceptable definitions of “abominable” include “corrupt” and “abhorrent” and “disgusting”, etc. If we hold certain things to be central to our liberties and responsibilities and theological foundations, then anything that abridges or alters or violates those standards will be within the bounds of “high level abomination”.

Also, if the result of sin should be considered in allocating a level of abomination, the potential wreckage of family life (that can be seen throughout our modern society) also argues for placing sexual sin high on the list of abominations.

One more thing: A command should not be judged by the most benign breaking of it. Two teenagers making out in the backseat of a car without the girl getting pregnant can’t be the basis for the discussion. The objectification of women through pornography and the dehumanizing effects of prostitution are a much better judgment standard - which is more in line with rape and child molestation (and the actual scriptural account in question). Just as the Word of Wisdom should be judged more by the drunk who beats his wife and children and keeps them in poverty than the occasional social drinker, the Law of Chastity should not be judged primarily by teenagers in a car.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Homecoming Break Today

For anyone looking for my regular New Year's Resolution post today, I am working now for a wonderful college (Culver-Stockton College - check it out! *grin*) and am not posting today due to Homecoming activities that are taking all of my time. My regular schedule will start again on Monday, with a new resolutions post next Saturday.

Friday, September 25, 2009

More Birthday Testimony

Happy Birthday to Me! Here is the rest of what I wrote about my testimony - the conclusion of my post on Wednesday:

"When you cut through all of the commentary about Jesus and focus foremost on what He actually said - those things that He preached directly to His disciples and the people who followed Him, there are some basic characteristics that define discipleship best. They are summarized beautifully in the Sermon on the Mount, and that is how I judge my discipleship.

Am I becoming more poor in spirit, more able to mourn with those that mourn, more meek, more hungering and thirsting after righteousness, more merciful, more pure in heart, more of a peacemaker, more in control of my anger and tongue, more chaste in thought and deed, more true to my promises (making them a simple “Yes” or “No”) Do I give more freely and do not revile as quickly; do I love those who revile me and seek situations of interaction with those who will do so.

I am nowhere close to perfect (complete, whole, fully developed in Christ), but I have given my soul to God and am doing the best I can to be who He has asked me to be. I have met the requirements asked of every Christian by Christ to be able to call myself a poor, sinful, but saved Christian, and all I ask is that my discipleship not be mocked by those who profess to be accepting the same Lord who has made it possible for me. We don’t have to believe all doctrine in the exact same manner and be identical in our discipleship, as long as we allow all who love the Lord to be equal in our discipleship.

I have not read anything from the Lord Himself that required a perfect understanding of doctrine to receive the words, “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” In the end, He has required a broken heart and a contrite spirit, with the promise that there will come a day when our natural, fallen shortcomings will be erased and we will be able to “be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2) That is my hope and my faith and the reason for my repentance."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Testimony for My Birthday

My birthday is this week, and I want to share something I wrote early a while ago in response to an evangelical gentleman with whom I was discussing religion and God. The following was part of my testimony (my witness) to him:

"If I tell you I have done and am doing exactly what you ask of me, can you accept that I am not just sincere, but that I might be "correct" - even if you personally don’t think it could be true of you within my own denomination? Your words seem to indicate that you could accept that, but I’m not quite sure.

For background purposes only, I have gone through what you describe. I have read the Bible countless times; I study it regularly; my “favorite” reading text is not the Book of Mormon, but the New Testament; I have attended Master’s and Doctorate level Comparative Religion classes; I pray regularly and try to have a prayer in my heart always; I have had spiritual experiences that simply are undeniable - not touchy-feely emotionalism, but real communion with the Spirit of God; I have see the hand of God in very real and undeniable ways - again, not emotion-based, but actually tangible evidences of His majesty and might; I have participated in the truly miraculous, through no merit of my own; I could go on and on and on, but the central point is that I have experienced and continue to experience God in my life as a follower of Christ who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I choose to be a member of that church because it matches what I have come to believe about the nature of God and Jesus, the Christ, and salvation and grace and fruit and the atonement and spirituality and revelation and so much more. All of that “understanding”, however, is not what makes me Christian; rather, what makes me Christian is my poor attempt to model my life after the admonitions and counsel and command and encouragement of my Lord and Redeemer - my attempt to accept the Good News of the Gospel - to have faith enough to believe and follow what He asks of me - to strive to repent and turn my life to Him, so that my spirit can be regenerated by His Spirit and I can do His works (pure fruit of the vine) rather than mine - to allow Him to make of me what He desires me to be. My denomination does not make me a Christian, but it does help me reach for Him and try to place my life in His hands - to accept His invitation to “Come, follow me” - to cast my burdens at His feet and take His yoke upon me - etc."

Most importantly, it helps me understand my relationship to my Father in Heaven, and I am eternally grateful for that understanding.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Simple Take on Why Mormons Are Christians

The following is a response I wrote to someone on a group blog:

"I agree with everything you wrote in your comment about how to define a Christian. I hope you will understand that what you wrote is what is said in just about every Mormon meeting I have attended for over 40 years.

That’s what is so frustrating about these types of conversations about whether Mormons are Christians. ALL Christian denominations disagree about some points of theology / doctrine; that’s why there are so many denominations. All of us, however, have a deep conviction that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer of the world - that we are lost and fallen without His grace - that our works mean nothing without His atoning sacrifice - that if works are not fruits of the Spirit’s influence in our lives then they are “dead” to us - etc. We agree on SO much more than most people realize - and most criticism of how we view Jesus simply is incorrect.

Sure, there are some “weird” statements in our past, but how is that any different than Martin Luther claiming that The Epistle of James is not real scripture, for example? Why is the standard so different for us?"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Interesting Epiphany: Thank You to Everyone Who Has Commented on My Blog

As I reflected on the comments about my last post (Spiritual Growth Is Not Automatic, Natural or Painless), something registered that I want to share - but it is something that I have struggled to find a way to say correctly. I want to start by quoting from the comments on that post - with a sincere, heartfelt thanks to each of you who helped me understand this month's resolution and the epiphany I want to share. I hope it will be phrased in such a way that it will be of benefit to those who read it.

In order of comment, Anonymous wrote:

I've had times in my life when to my surprise I find myself dealing with circumstances better than I may have anticipated, given my track record. Then I realize that on reflection, I have been working on it for a long time - often, such a long time that the stages in the growth process have crept up on me.

Ryan wrote:

Of course, there are those days where the kid had a growth spurt in the night and really is measurably taller in the morning than when she went to bed... but most of the accumulated height comes imperceptibly.

Tatiana wrote:

Looking at it that way, it might be that we make more progress than we realize.

Finally, my sweetheart said:

I love the scriptures that say, "Be still and know that I am God."

Now the epiphany:

I have been working on this one resolution for nearly two years - and the monthly resolutions for the rest of this year are about "refocusing" on things from the past 21 months. I have had months when the things I have learned have been more dramatic than other months, but I have had 20 months of wonderful experiences - wonderful insights as a result of my focus, but also wonderful insights as a result of those who have read these posts and taken the time to comment on them.

This resolution has extended to the point that I now am working on a sort of summary resolution this month - and my epiphany is that my specific resolution for this month ("seeking for and doing the will of the Father") is, at the meta-level, precisely what my focus has been throughout the entire time I have been pursuing the New Year's Resolution I laid out at the beginning of January 2008. If the Father's and Son's work and glory is to nurture us to become "at-one" with them ("Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."), then seeking to become more like Jesus is precisely "the will of the Father" - and, in seeking to become like Them, step-by-step, line-upon-line, precept-upon-precept, I have been seeking to do their will.

Truly, it's not the little steps along the way that are most important (as vitally important as they are along the way), but rather it's the vistas that unfold at moments like this - when I can pause ("be still"), look back on the last 21 months and realize how wonderful the journey has been and how much I am looking forward to the continuation of the slow, steady change that occurs inside when I try consciously and intentionally to become what I was created to become - to fill the measure of my own personal creation. However, those vistas never will be possible without the steps that are taken to arrive at them.

Spiritual growth truly can be realized fully only in hindsight, which is why we believe so passionately in enduring to the end - with "the end" meaning nothing more than completion, wholeness and full development. In other words, we must continue to strive until we have become "therefore" (in that manner) perfect (complete, whole, fully developed), even as our Father who art in heaven and His son are perfect.

My resolutions for the rest of this year will remain the same, and I will re-evaluate at the end of the year how to organize my focus for next year. There are more vistas to experience, and I look forward to the help I will receive along the way.

Again, thank you to everyone who has contributed to this moment for me. I appreciate it deeply.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Feeling the Scriptures

I want my children to understand our scriptures intellectually, but I am more concerned that they feel their power and recognize their source. I like the individual focus of scriptural understanding in the Church - the lack of formal, official interpretation - the fluidity inherent in our "as far as it is translated correctly" mentality. I love to learn from many in the Bloggernacle, but I also love that, in the end, I can't cede my understanding to them - that it is left to me to construct my own, unique perspective.

In the end, I am responsible for my own understanding and feeling regarding the scriptures.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Marriage: Equal Partners

The Proclamation to the World says that there are “primary” roles for men and women, but that men and women are “obligated” to help one another in these roles as “equal partners”. That seems to mean that, although primary roles exist, they are not to define exclusively what we do and “separate” us; rather, we are to unite and work together across the natural distinctions of gender to become equal partners. It seems to say that the most important thing is not the primary distinctions but rather the obligation to erase those distinctions in practical terms by creating a unique and real partnership.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Spiritual Growth Is Not Automatic, Natural or Painless

I have learned this week, once more, that it is hard to grow spiritually without conscious focus and dedicated effort. I wish I could offer a profound insight into how I successfully sought and found God's will in my life this week, but, instead, all I can offer is an emphasis that such a quest doesn't happen on its own, automatically, naturally, painlessly.

I was distracted this week by numerous things, and I have nothing more to offer than what I said already:

It is hard to grow spiritually without conscious focus and dedicated

Friday, September 11, 2009

Conflicting Memories of Tragedy

Our second son initially viewed 9/11/01 as a wonderful day of freedom and relief.

Almost two weeks earlier, his appendix had burst, apparently after nearly a week of steady leakage. The doctor who operated told us afterward that it was the worst case he had ever seen where the patient lived. (Priesthood blessings are amazing, both before we had any idea what was happening and after we found out.) Our son spent almost two weeks in the hospital, and he was released the afternoon of 9/11. He thought it would be a day that would be his unique day to celebrate the literal saving of his life through miraculous means.

It still is special to him, but, to a large degree, he lost a lot emotionally in the after effects of the national and global perspective on that day. He was 11-years-old; he wanted to celebrate life; he couldn’t; he really couldn’t even talk about it with others without seeming to be insensitive and callous and selfish. In fact, one teacher even made him rewrite a wonderfully poignant essay about his conflicted feelings about that day (a class assignment) and re-direct it to the bombing - as if his personal experience didn’t really matter.

That’s what I will remember most about 9/11/01 - the way it shook up the world and shattered my son’s sense of peace and joy and celebration, since the saving of his life meant so much less to the community around him than the loss of so many lives. I absolutely love Alan Jackson’s song, “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning”, since it expresses so well the myriad ways that event affected so many different people in so many different ways.

(Mama posted about Jeff, as well - without us having discussed it. We really are a good team!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

To Serve and to Wait

Comment by Kent (MC) on Mormon Matters last month (Comment #5):

When discussing the nature of God with fellow Mormons I sometimes ask, “Why did it take billions of years for God to create the earth? Why not just millions of years, or even better, why not just one second?” It often comes down to the idea that God commands and waits until he is obeyed.

Responding comment by Stephen M (Comment #8):

"Having the priesthood has nothing to do with forcing or putting pressure on anyone, but more the serving with kindness and pure love. The call to preside is the call to serve and to wait."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Carefully Considered Conversation

I appear to most people to be a classically orthodox Mormon. I have held positions of perceived authority in every area in which I have lived; I have six children - the oldest on a mission and the youngest in grade school; my wife did not work outside our home until a couple of years ago, when our youngest started school; I always wear a white shirt and tie to church; I support the Priesthood leadership in public, almost without exception; I live a very conservative life; and on and on and on.

However, many of my religious and political views defy classification of my collective beliefs. Some are conservative; many are moderate and nuanced; some are very liberal. I have spent years carefully considering and altering my perspective on many issues. Even so, I constantly have to respond to assumptions that, because of my general appearance, I believe the most extreme conservative things imaginable - even from other members and even on public blogs where I have commented regularly for nearly four years. I often write something and then have to respond to a response by saying, “Wait. Read it again. I didn’t say that.” I want to be judged by what I actually say, not by what others have said that gets lumped in with what I said - so I try hard to grant others that same courtesy.

Misplaced assumptions happen to me and to others, regularly - I believe because it is very easy to read certain buzz words and phrases and jump to conclusions based on previous experiences with the attitudes and beliefs of others. Sometimes it is hard to read slowly and carefully and thoughtfully and avoid assuming too early, “I’ve heard that one before” - often stopping and responding at that point without finishing a comment or comments. If there is one frustration of public conversations like this for me, it is when I see the emotions roil and stereotypes get attacked when no such stereotypes have been stated.

When we come together in sincerity and attempted understanding - not to convince each other but to learn from each other - great things can happen. When we position ourselves against each other (like even I do sometimes), great things rarely happen. Ultimately, I believe the responsibility is mine for what I give to and get from any gathering - whether in a building or on a blog. I can't blame anyone but myself if I leave a potential feast only partially filled.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mormonism Is Not Fundamentalist Evangelism

I can’t explain adequately in this type of forum how uncomfortable I am that Mormonism has become linked in some people’s eyes with the fundamentalist evangelical movement. If I were to post a thread about the theological implications of the Reformation creeds, and how the slippery slope has led to fundamentalist evangelism, it would be hard to do so without sounding over-the-top confrontational and alarmist. (It is the same for hardcore Calvinism, frankly.)

Let me just say that such an examination needs to be accomplished within the context of the War in Heaven to be understood fully.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The BCS is a JOKE!

Just a non-spiritual rant:

BYU 14 - (#3) Oklahoma 13!!
(#6) Ohio St. 31 - Navy 27 - almost tied at end
(#22) Iowa 17 - N. Iowa 16 - after TWO blocked field goals in the final seconds
Boise St. 19 - (#16) Oregon . . . 8!

The BCS conferences MUST rely on pre-season rankings, since the teams don't earn it on the field!

Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Sermon on the Mount is One Eternal Round

My resolution for this month is to "seek for and do the will of the Father" - taken from Matthew 7:21-23, which says:

21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Two points only for now about what this passage means, then more throughout the month about my actual efforts to incorporate this message.

1) This passage is perhaps the best example in all of our recorded scriptures of a simple refutation of the concept of "confess his name and be saved". That concept lies at the heart of why many reject Mormonism as not being Christian (the erroneous idea that we believe we can work our way into heaven), and it is diametrically opposed to this passage.

This passage reads as if it was directly responding to that idea - the idea that all one needs to do is confess that Jesus is the Christ (or, in reality, that Jesus is the Christ in one particular, generally accepted codification). This even goes so far as to say that confessing his name AND doing "wonderful works" in that name is not enough. That ties in well with my posts from last month about the need to produce "fruit of the vine" rather than our own works - that it's not doing what we think we should do that is important, but that it's doing what HE wants us to do that is important.

2) This passage also is the ultimate definition of "taking the Lord's name in vain". This describes those people who claim to be representing the Lord but not doing what His Father wants them to do. "Vain" means "arrogantly and/or without effect". Therefore, those who use His name in order to justify their actions when those actions are not what God wants them to do are guilty of both definitions above - arrogance and ineffectiveness.

Using the Lord's name without effect (like the non-thinking, reflexive, blasphemous usage that is SO common even among those who profess to be Christian) is bad enough. Doing so to justify improper actions is even worse.

The important point to make is that NOBODY is immune from this temptation or tendency - except for those who follow the admonition earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) to "swear not at all, but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." In that context, nothing should be done "in thy name" except for sacred ordinances that require such attribution (e.g., "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." [Matthew 28:19]) and prophetic statements that truly do express His will ("Thus saith the Lord.").

My understanding of the multiple statements in the Sermon on the Mount regarding claiming to speak and act for the Lord makes me very wary of doing so outside the parameters set in the these passages. I believe that it is important to be careful to give credit where credit is due and avoid arrogance, but also not to begin to claim reflexively to represent Him in all we do - thus embracing the opposite manifestation of the arrogance that occurs when we fail to credit him.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Truly, it is fascinating that the final message of the Sermon on the Mount is the same as the first message of the Sermon on the Mount.

Friday, September 4, 2009

To Each Her Own

I have said on more than one occasion that every individual needs to find peace with their own personality and perspective - and allow "all men everywhere the same privilege". In my opinion, number 11 is the most powerfully practical of all the Articles of Faith - and the least followed by many members. It simply is too natural and easy to find one's own peace but not allow others to find their peace in a slightly or very different way, realizing that honesty and sincerity don't lead always to the exact same conclusions.

"To each her own" is perhaps the most fundamental principle in the Restored Gospel.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Eternal Marriage from the Eyes of Married Converts

The topic of eternal marriage and our responsibilities as husbands is interesting in the context of a non-Utah High Priests Group - a bunch of old men, most of whom converted to the Church with their wives and look at it from the perspective of how the Restored Gospel changed their attitudes toward their wives and their duties as husbands. I think everyone should hear that discussion occasionally - even if only to emphasize how cool these teachings really are to those who grew up and started marriage without them.

One quick example:

A recent convert was sealed to his wife two years ago. They almost separated years ago, then renewed their marriage a few years ago. She laughingly and he sincerely talk about how not too many years ago she wouldn’t have dreamed of “marrying” him a third time; they both glow about the upcoming ceremony now. Both of them attribute that change directly to their acceptance of the restored Gospel and the perspective it gave them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009