Friday, April 30, 2010

Raising the (Uneven Parallel) Bars

I was involved in a Stake Leadership Training Meeting a couple of years ago, and I felt compelled to remind those who were in the Aaronic Priesthood Leadership group that "raising the bar" for the youth, leaders and parents does NOT mean establishing the bar at the same height for all Young Men. Rather, I believe it should mean helping each individual Young Man jump a little higher than he was able to jump previously.

If the bar is set at 7'6" for everyone, there will be much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth - and failure; if it is set at 3'0" for everyone, there will be much boredom and daydreaming and drifting away. The key is to know each Young Man well enough to raise that individual Young Man's bar just high enough so that clearing it is possible but requires increased effort and growth and strength.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gaining a Deeper Understanding of the Poetry of Our Hymns

It has been my practice for years during the passing of the sacrament to open the hymnbook and read the words of the hymns being sung that day. I read them without the musical rhythm and pacing that make them "songs" - simply as poems, as I would read them in a classroom to a group of students. The meaning often jumps out in ways that simply are impossible to understand in their lyric form.

For example, look at the 3rd verse of Silent Night. If you type the words in separate lines for each individual thought or idea or phrase, it looks like this (read without pausing when no punctuation is visible):

Silent Night!

Holy Night!

Son of God,

love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face,

with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Translated into "normal" English, it might read:

Silent Night! Holy Night! Son of God, love's pure light beams radiantly from thy holy face, and that pure light of love carries with it the rising light of redeeming grace.

Thou art Jesus - Lord at thy birth.

I gained a
MUCH deeper appreciation of this hymn and others when I started reading them as poems within the spirit of Sacrament Meeting.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Borderline Sacrilegious, but Flat-Out Hilarious

Speaking of the Council in Heaven in the pre-mortal existence:

I’d make it look like the council in The Lord of the Rings, except Boromir is Satan, Gandalf is Jesus, Aragorn is the Holy Ghost, Elrond is Heavenly Father, and Legolas is Heavenly Mother. Frodo represents all of us. He says, “I’ll go to earth, though…I do not know the way,” and Jesus says, “I will help you bear this burden.” Then the Holy Ghost kneels and says, “If I can protect you, I will. You will have my spirit.”

Comment #26 on "Chapter 1 - Council in Heaven" - Eric Russell (New Cool Thang)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Admit It: We Don't Have All the Answers By Ourselves

We often believe we know what is best for others without bothering to get to know them intimately and ask them what they want for themselves. I have seen that way too much in my administrative meetings over the years. I believe that if we stopped making this assumption and simply asked others for their input, most of these problems would disappear - sometimes because the "solutions" would be manifest, but other times because we will realize that they really aren't major problems in the first place.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Charity: The Relationship Between Behaving Unseemly and Meekness

[This week as I have continued to ponder charity and not behaving unseemly, particularly as I have thought about the aspect of unseemly behavior I outlined last week from Romans 14, something I wrote almost exactly two years ago about being more merciful has weighed on my mind once again. Therefore, I am re-posting it this week in lieu of a "new" resolutions post]:

As I have continued to think about and try to practice being more merciful, something struck me that I had never considered previously. Considering it more deeply has been enlightening for me. [both then and now]

Being merciful might be categorized initially as being willing to forgive, but I think it is more fundamental than forgiving. Remember, one of the core definitions of mercy is "forbearance to inflict harm when one has the power to do so" - and I think there is a fundamental difference between forgiving and not harming. I think that we often focus so much on the first one (forgiving) that we sometimes forget about the second one (not harming) - and the thought that struck me is that forbearance to inflict harm must occur BEFORE true and total forgiveness can take place.

This is because "forgiveness" is focused on the offending person and is, as all who have been offended understand, a process. In order to "forgive", one must first be harmed in some way - but, more fundamentally, one must recognize that one has been harmed. Someone can harm me (and do so to a great degree), but if I am not aware of it (like instances of libel or slander that do not come to my attention) I cannot "forgive". Forgiving requires an understanding of harm, and requires an extension of mercy - by not demanding punishment that would constitute justice. In other words, if I am unable to extend mercy by forbearing to inflict harm when it is in my power to do so - and when it is "justified", I will be unable to forgive. This, in turn, will make me a bitter person - which will compel me to continue to judge and withhold mercy - which usually, if not always, will be done unrighteously (not in accordance with God's understanding and will) - which will, therefore, place me outside God's own mercy for my own transgressions. Only if I offer mercy to others will I be able to "obtain mercy" from God.

Forgiving what someone does to me requires that I proactively do something for them - extend the hand of mercy and not strike back. I have never considered "turning the other cheek" as an application of mercy, but this puts it squarely as a merciful act. This puts a new and compelling twist on the scripture I have read many times in my life but never seen quite this way:

"For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still." (Isaiah 5:25)

I have read compassion in this verse (and others that use the same statement), but I have never framed it in terms of mercy. Each instance describes instances when the people of Israel have done things to reject their Lord, and each instance mentions the anger of the Lord at this rejection and the "just" result of that rejection - that his anger is not turned away. However, each verse ends by saying that His "hand is stretched out still".

The footnotes to Isaiah 9:12 (which contains the same phrase) provide the following additional clarification:

"IE In spite of all, the Lord is available if they will turn to him."

This is mercy at its most basic level.

In the grand scheme of things, being merciful might be the clearest, most practical way to define and understand forgiveness. If you truly have forgiven, you will not seek or do anything to inflict harm - either physical, financial, emotional or spiritual. You will, in a very real AND figurative sense, "turn the other cheek".

[As a post-script, I only will add that not behaving unseemly fits this same category of an active expression of mercy - by not doing something that is in one's power to do for no reason other than love and concern for others whose standards are different than your own.]

Friday, April 23, 2010

Godhood as the Goal of Existence for Men and Women

I believe that the great and fundamental heresy of the apostasy is the removal of the Father as an actual Father from Christian theology - someone His children can emulate and grow to approximate. I believe the great correction of the Restoration, imo, is the reinstatement of the Father as our ultimate, eternal objective. I believe the great addition of the Restoration is the inclusion of women in this eternal vision - by positing the existence of a Mother.

No matter the actual nature of Godhood, I believe strongly that the belief in individual exaltation and the effort required to reach perfection (completion of growth) is critical to the Atonement of Jesus as taught in the Gospels.
Explicitly including women in that construct by juxtaposing a Mother at the side of a Father is deeply profound, in my humble opinion, regardless of whether it is an "accurate" depiction of the afterlife. The temple (and now "A Family: The Proclamation to the World") is a good example of how our ideal differs from the modification that is practiced in the fallen world, and too many people (even members) don't understand the power of our truly unique theology as it relates to men and women.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Even Joseph Smith Had to Learn Line Upon Line Over Time

I'm not convinced Joseph understood the implications of his own visions and revelations when they happened. We have a hard enough time contemplating them even almost 200 years later; I think he learned "line-upon-line" from each subsequent experience. I think he understood his First Vision better through the years as it was reinforced by other experiences, so . . .

I'm not sure if the Lord told him not to reveal all of the First Vision details or if he simply didn't understand it all, but I think it's a combination of the two. I think he was overwhelmed by it; after all, Moroni later had to repeat his visit three more times after the initial vision in order to be sure Joseph understood it all. Of the two, I'm fairly certain that the First Vision would have been more overwhelming and hard to fathom than Moroni's message.

When you boil everything else down to the most fundamental principle of the Restored Gospel, I think it can be stated as: "I am a child of God." The literal reality of that statement is mind-boggling even for us, much less for others still bound by the teachings of centuries - as Joseph undoubtedly still was even after the First Vision. It was and is the heresy that nearly got Jesus stoned; Joseph had enough trouble with his claim of translating the Book of Mormon; I think understanding the First Vision fully and broadcasting it publicly easily could have killed the Restoration before it got started.

That's speculation, of course, but it makes sense to me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

True or Not, Some Things Simply Should Be Believed

"If you want to believe in something, then believe in it. Just because something isn’t true, there’s no reason you can’t believe in it. Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most: that people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything; that power and money mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; that true love never dies. It doesn’t matter if they are true or not. A man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in."

- from the movie, "Second Hand Lions".

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Own Multiple "First Vision Accounts"

It is easy to judge another time by the conditions of our own. We live in a day and age where many people, even common people like you and I, record our thoughts and feelings and impressions and experiences without giving it a second thought. We live in an information age, but this has not been the standard for most of human history - even as recently as 50 years ago. Up until the explosion of computer technology, in fact, the people who recorded even their most treasured experiences were the tiny fraction of the population - and an even smaller percentage of the "uneducated masses" did so. Furthermore, very rarely did someone record even the most profound experiences immediately after they happened.

Until many years after the First Vision, there would have been no standard precedent or pressing need for Joseph Smith to record it. He verbally told his family and minister, at least, and that is completely consistent with the practice of his day for someone of his education. Only later, when others on a much broader level started asking about it would he naturally have thought to put it in writing - and, just like myself when recounting something from my past here in this forum, he would have picked and chosen what to share and how to share it based on the audience at the time.

I personally have experienced retelling a story somewhat differently on different occasions in order to emphasize certain points and not share others. I have told some of my own experiences with the Spirit to various audiences, and occasionally I have totally glossed over others who were involved in those experiences - for various, legitimate reasons. I also have attributed statements and quoted teachings to my father in order to be concise (yeah, hard to believe, I know), when, in fact, those things were not actual statements but rather things I learned from the way he lived his life - kind of compiled summaries that made sense to me in statements of my own creation. I believe that is a common practice of nearly all of us, so I would be very careful about judging Joseph for what I believe is nothing more than acting like someone in his situation naturally would act.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Charity: Disputing Over "Unsettled" Doctrine Is Unseemly

In last week's resloution post, I parsed the word "unseemly" and talked about how it appears to mean acting properly in individual situations. I mentioned that there seems to be an underlying assumption of a universal standard, but that, in practical terms, there is a need to be in tune with what is appropriate and not appropriate when there might be tension between a universal standard and the culture of the situation. In this post, I want to delve into that potential tension and try to articulate a solution to it that I believe can work regardless of the situation - a "universal standard" that still allows for individual adaptation according to unique circumstances.

To introduce this standard, I want to quote extensively from Paul's words in Romans 14. I believe the entire chapter deals directly with this aspect of charity (that it "doth not behave itself unseemly"), but I am going to excerpt specific verses simply for brevity's sake. (Understanding that this still will be a long post.)

1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

To me, this says that we should welcome those whose faith is weak, but not in order to engage in "doubtful disputations". This phrase (doubtful disputations) might mean arguments that are centered on the weak one's doubts, BUT another alternative meaning that I believe fits the chapter better is "unsettled in opinion or belief; undecided". This can mean that we should not disupte with those whose faith is weak over issues/doctrines/ etc. that are unsettled or undecided. Again, I believe this fits the example that Paul gives in the following verses very well.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.

This divides the people being described into two sides - those who will eat anything (including meat) and those who eat herbs (and not meat).

3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.

These two groups are working from different "cultural/religious standards" - and Paul's initial message to each group is to not despise the other simply because of those differences.

5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike.
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Here Paul recognizes that people view different things differently (probably in reference to the Sabbath and religious holy days in this verse), and he asks everyone to reach a conclusion individually that can be that person's "full" conclusion. In other words, he asks that each of us strive to understand our own situation and what God would have us do (even though he also says that we "see through a glass, darkly"), while accepting that others will reach different understanding for themselves.

6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

In this verse, Paul highlights a critical point - that those who disagree even with regard to things that they view as highly important (like the Sabbath and what is appropriate to eat) ALL do what they do "to the Lord" (as an expression of faith to God).

10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.

This is an important point:

We have to account for our own actions, so why do we worry about accounting for others' actions?

In that spirit, Paul adds:

13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

There is a famous saying,

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

This saying was taken from this chapter (in Romans), and, while I am not saying that we should participate in everything that is acceptable in other cultures, I am saying that charity includes being able to recognize which cultural aspects that others follow are fine to follow while among them and not use as the source for "doubtful disputations".

My father used to say to us, when we asked about whether or not we could do something,

"Is it critical to your eternal salvation?"

He did this NOT to limit what we could do by viewing everything as critical, but rather he did this to help us see that there are MANY things we can do that really are NOT critical to our eternal salvation. I believe he was teaching us to be charitable in not behaving ourselves unseemly - by helping us realize that we don't need to enclose ourselves so tightly in proscriptive standards that we end up not being able to socialize with those whose standards are not as proscriptive (and vice-versa) - or whose standards are proscriptive in different ways.

21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.

In summary, Paul restates his point - and he does so primarily to those for whom "eat(ing) flesh" and "drink(ing) wine" are not an offense and do not make weak. He is saying, in essence, that those who can handle it should not partake among those who can't. In our modern Mormon vernacular, he is saying that those who are strong should adapt their behavior to accommodate "the weakest of the weak who are or can be called saints".

I would add only this, to bring the entire discussion full circle:

Not only should we adapt our "physical actions" to accommodate the weak (by not eating and drinking that which would offend or weaken them or cause them to stumble), but we also should adapt our "verbal actions" to accommodate them (by not participating in doubtful disputations with them over standards that are "unsettled" and open to interpretation).

The responsibility is NOT on the weak; it is on the strong. If you think, for example, that the Word of Wisdom is trivial, inconsequential and not all that important, prove your strength by being charitable and abstaining for the sake of the weak - those for whom abstaining really is critical to their eternal salvation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Salvation is Communal, Not Individual

Salvation as a group is as central to Mormonism as any concept I can imagine. The central concept of the temple is that the power of godliness binds people in a way that would make the very creation of the earth “wasted” without “communal salvation”. Although we use the term "exaltation" to refer to the Celestial Kingdom, I have no problem using "salvation" when talking about the greatest gift God bestows, especially in the context of how other Christians use that term and not "exaltation."

Also, Joseph was a Zion builder, not simply an individual saver. Our great mortal target is to replicate the City of Enoch, not the scholar in the tower or the monk in the monastery.

I'm not arguing that salvation is not individual, in a very real and important way. What I am saying is that it isn't completely individual - that you can't gain the fullest blessings of salvation (exaltation, in our terminology) by sitting in a monastery and getting to know Jesus on an individual level. (I actually have heard it called "chillin' with Christ" and extolled as the ultimate form of worship.) According to everything Jesus is credited with saying and doing, that isn't compatible with what he wants.

What I believe he wants is for us to lose our individual lives in the service of others - specifically those who are down-trodden and victimized and shunned and marginalized - socially and economically and politically and in any other way. If they have no voice, we are to be their voice; if they have no food, we are to provide it; if they are naked, we are to clothe them. Otherwise, He will say to us, "Depart from me."

It seems painfully clear to me that there is a "work of salvation" that includes the temporal condition of humanity. Seriously, go through the Gospels and tally up the instances of Jesus "preaching" and "ministering". I think it is an enlightening exercise, and it leads me to believe that salvation in fact is NOT an individual thing, but rather a communal thing spread by individuals. I can't be exalted by myself, as an individual. According to everything we teach, that simply isn't possible - assuming I have enough accountability to understand my responsibility to others. Even in the most limited cases, exaltation comes at the very least as a couple.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Poor and Needy Among Us

In all seriousness, when people have praised my wife and me for taking in friends of our children who have been kicked out of their own homes, or housing a family for a few months while they got their lives back in order, I always thought, "What's so special about what we are doing? It's not like it's a terribly difficult thing."

I think we only neglect the poor and needy "around" us when we don't allow them to be "among" or "of" us.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

We Need to Teach the Actual Promise in Moroni 10:4

In order to get to the promise in Moroni 10:4, one should have read the entire Book of Mormon. I have a hard time when members or missionaries jump to that invitation after just a few select passages; it should be the culmination of reading the entire book. If someone has shown their sincere effort to “investigate” by reading that much, at the very least they have exercised a degree of faith (at least desire, as described in Alma 32:27) in that process.

Next, when you look at Moroni 10:3 the key is to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” The key word is “remember” - and that remembrance can be of the mercies of God in ANY people’s history. Once the reader remembers God’s mercy to others (including their own ancestors/people), they are told to ponder and pray about what they have read - which is FULL of references to and teachings about Christ. Hence, if one exercises enough faith to read the book, then remembers God’s mercy, then ponders the words of the Christ-focused book and prays about it - then they can pray with real intent, having faith in Christ, even if their own ancestral heritage does not include Him.

I believe we short-circuit the process of the exercise of faith by introducing the promise too early and jumping to “pray about it” without inviting the reader to follow the prerequisite steps laid out in the invitation itself - especially if the reader is not Christian.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Charity Doth Not Behave Itself Unseemly

My resolution this month is taken from I Corinthians 13:5. It is to "behave more seemly". As I always do at the begninning of each month, I will parse the meaning of the phrase first - and deal with my immediate, initial reaction to that exercise.

Unlike some of the words I have analyzed in previous months for my New Year's Resolution, the word "unseemly" means exactly what people who have used it generally mean when they use it. There appears to be nothing unique or special in its usage in this verse. The definition is:

not suited to the circumstances; inappropriate

The interesting thing is when "appropriate" is used as a verb, since this aspect of charity explicitly and obviously is sited as a behavioral pattern. ("Behave itself unseemly" might be translated into our modern usage as "behave in an inappropriate manner".) In that respect, "to appropriate" means:

to make one's own

This means that behaving "unseemly" means acting in a way that is not consisent with how one should act in making a pattern of behavior one's own. In other words, as in all of the other manifestations of charity I have studied this year (and like all of the characteristics in the Sermon on the Mount I studied during the last two years), "to appropriate" means "to internalize as one's own".

That definition, in and of itself, might be routine and not profound at first glance, but there is an underlying assumption of a common, if not universal, standard that can be identified and understood - and my initial reaction is that finding and identifying that standard is not as simple as the definition itself initially makes it seem. After all, what generally is seen as "appropriate" is tied closely to "communal culture" - but surely not everything that is culturally acceptable is appropriate if viewed by a universal standard.

How, then, are we to determine what is "unseemly" - what we should avoid "making our own" (internalizing) - from among the many things that are considered appropriate and inappropriate within the various cultures in which we live? How are we to avoid rationalizing our actions in order to do exactly what we want to do, while also avoiding an unthinking acceptance of what others would demand that we do based simply on collective, communal expectations?

Often, Christians look to a standard like, "What would Jesus do?" I think that is a good starting point for Christians (and it can be applied generally to any other religion or even the irreligious by focusing on someone else who is esteemed highly), but, even then, there is not an easy answer for all situations. Consider only the example of "Do good to those who dispitefully use you and persecute you" vs. clearing the temple - or "turn the other cheek" vs. "ye generation of vipers". If we are to use Jesus as our example, I believe we must recognize that "unseemly" might be situational in more cases than we are wont to assume - that determining what is "unseemly" might be tied in more to being "in touch with the Spirit" than to "memorizing the rules".

Perhaps the definition of unseemly for this post can be summarized best as:

not appropriate for the circumstance at any given moment - and subject to change at a moment's notice when the circumstance changes in any way

Perhaps not behaving unseemly hinges on establishing an internal compass, if you will, that points someone "truly" - or in the right direction. Perhaps not acting unseemly is the result of suffering long and being kind, envying not, vaunting not itself and not being puffed up.

That defnition is a bit scary in a way, but it also is liberating and enabling and empowering - since it places the responsbility to determine what is unseemly and what is appropriate directly on the shoulders of the person experiencing the circumstances. It rests on a fundamental need to understand one's circumstances well enough to act appropriately - but it also rests on developing charity, not acquiring it - of becoming, not getting.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Are Ordinances Necessary Works or a Gracious Gift?

Some people claim ordinances are necessary "works" - because God said we must perform them, and because these ordinances will be done for all. If they will be done for all, can we take credit for performing them now? In other words, we believe that God is going to ensure that the ordinances get done, no matter that we will never be able to reconstruct our genealogical records well enough to do it on our own. Therefore, it is going to take miraculous intervention on His part for us to perform the ordinances - meaning even that is not necessary for US to do them on our own. The completion of the commandment is done through His grace.

I believe DEEPLY in the concept of eternal, saving ordinances, but I see them as "necessary" for US - a physical, visible, tangible token or sign of our determination and faith - an outward manifestation of our inner commitment. I believe they are necessary not for some checklist in the Book of Life, but rather to put our actions in harmony with our feelings and beliefs - to marry the physical with the spiritual in a real way - to embed our beliefs in practice - to be true "fruits" of our faith. Temple ordinances are a way to continually affirm, in a very physical way, that we truly are willing to turn our hearts to our fathers and, by extension, all God's children - not just those with whom we currently share this planet. I see them as a powerfully humbling framework that changes our very attitudes and perspectives in a way that merely intellectual or spiritual things simply cannot.

Does getting dunked in water miraculously cleanse me? Perhaps and perhaps not, but I KNOW it gives me an actual, physical experience which I can "remember" - that can form the foundation of my attempts to model and emulate and become like Christ. Likewise, does my getting dunked miraculously cleanse someone else? Perhaps and perhaps not, but I KNOW it gives me an actual, physical experience which I can "remember" (especially through regular reenactment) - that can keep me focused on humbly and symbolically bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man - that can keep me from the natural arrogance of focusing strictly on myself.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

History Is Messy and Rarely Fits Extremes

A friend of mine said once:

"I think we would be able to talk much more effectively with those outside of our faith if we embraced, and learned, our history in its entire complexity."

I agree with this fully, but I see too many members who gravitate to either extreme in their conclusions. For example, to focus on two controversial topics, it tends to be either:

1) Polygamy and the priesthood ban (and every other historical practice) are ordained directly of God and practiced exactly as He commanded; or

2) Each of them was not God's will and we need to apologize for them.

Personally, I think that the more we "embrace and learn our history" the more we realize it usually isn't either extreme - that it is a combination of divine instruction and human application that gets messy just like our own lives - that it is consistent with the overall view we have of God's interactions with His children throughout history. It's never been clean and pristine; it's always been messy - specifically because it involved us, and we're a mess.

I can't "apologize" for what others did. I can, however, explain honestly and openly my reasoning if I think they were wrong - and why.

For example, in the case of "plural marriage", I have no general problems with the practice as a whole in that time, as I see it as a temporary exception as allowed in Jacob 2 and as an attempt to figure out and "mortalize" our possible relationships in the here-after - and I can think of very good reasons for the way the early saints (including the leaders) struggled to find "the one true way" to practive plural marriage. (Sorry, no more here, since this post isn't intended as a treatise on polygamy.) However, there are aspects of the final form found in "polygamy" once the Church moved to Utah that I don't understand and accept fully - espeically when it comes to some of the reasoning put forth as explanations for it. For the priesthood ban, I have no justification, as I think it was based on the racism of the time and was allowed only because God honors agency even as He weeps over its exercise. Both of these examples, however, are only my own attempts to understand - and are constructed through years of searching, pondering, prayer and conversation with others.

In the end, history really is messy - and rarely easy to characterize properly. I try to see people as charitably as possible, even as I am honest in explaining how I personally view their actions.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sometimes Religious Similarities are Surprising

I believe we will be judged on how well we live the teachings of Jesus, NOT by how well we articulate them or the nuances of our intellectualization of them. That is, imo, the underlying foundation of Mormon theology - that we will be rewarded by what we become.

That belief is true of most other Christians, as well; we just phrase the belief differently. We speak of agency and choice and accountability, all built on the foundation of assumed and often unarticulated grace; "they" speak of election and the in-dwelling of the Spirit, etc. - all built on the foundation of assumed and always articulated grace. The difference is that, ultimately, we allow for different expressions of belief to lead to the type of "becoming" that leads to exaltation; many Christians equate different expressions with non-saving, dead works that, therefore, lead to damnation.

If there were a translator attached to our utterances that changed our words into what others would say if they meant the same thing, I think it would astound both sides how much we would agree with each other.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Honoring the Cross as Mormons

I read a wonderful post yesterday at By Common Consent by one of my favorite writers, Russell Arben Fox. It is entitled “Friday Reflections on Mormonism and the Cross” - and I recommend the entire post.

The following is not my typical Saturday resolutions post, but since my New Year's resolution for the past three years has been focused on various aspects of becoming more Christ-like, and since this is Easter weekend, I want to copy here my response on BCC to Russell's post - then add a bit more about Easter:

When I talk about the Atonement, I also reference the Sermon on the Mount – and I emphasize the command to be perfect. The wording in verse 48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect.” In the overall context of Chapter 5, I agree that this conclusion means that we become “perfect” by becoming the type of “blessed” person described in the previous verses. Finally, our footnotes for verse 48 define being perfect as being “complete, whole, fully developed” – and I re-word that as “finished”.

It only was at the end of his time on the cross that Jesus declared, “It is finished” – just before he “gave up the ghost”. Iow, it only was after the cross that the Atonement was complete – that Jesus fulfilled his own command to “be ye therefore perfect.”

I honor Gethsemane, but when we ignore Golgotha we worship an incomplete, paritally developed, imperfect Savior and Redeemer.

There have been any number of pronouncements in the history of this world that carried special significance for those beyond the people to whom they were addressed. Among them, within just our Christian heritage, are the following:

"Multiply and replenish the earth."

"Moses, my son."

"For unto us a child is born."

"Thou art blessed among women."

"This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him."

"It is finished."

All of these have grave import, but the greatest pronouncement in the history of the world might be simply:

"He is not here, for he is risen."

I simply add my voice here and state, with my own conviction, that, in a very real and powerful and important way:

He can be here, for he is risen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Increased Compassion in Our Conversations

I was blessed to be raised with a mother who never once raised her voice to anyone - not in anger and not in any other way. I can say honestly that I have never heard her condemn anyone. When we did something we shouldn’t have done, she would automatically tear up because of what she feared our actions, if continued, would do to us. Those tears were worse BY FAR than anything my dad did to punish us, but it was not transmitted through a sense of guilt. It came across obviously and strongly as a deep and abiding love for us and concern for who we would become. She simply was (and is) a gentle soul - a "sweet spirit" in the purest sense of that phrase. My dad used to say that if we came home and found everything gone, stolen by someone, my mom would say, “They must need it more than we do" - sincerely and reflexively.

I have a deep and abiding desire for respectful conversation and mutual understanding explicitly because of what I saw my mother live. She was loved, truly and deeply, by everyone who met her, and I wish I was like that more fully.

Elder Wirthlin’s words about accepting all within the orchestra (not just the piccolos) resonated with me largely because of my upbringing, but my experience since beginning to blog also made his words ring clearly to me. I have seen so much contention and bickering and vitriol even among the Saints, and it pains my soul - especially when I know what it does to people.

I don’t ask for compassion in commentary simply because of what it does to a conversation; I ask for it also because of what it can do within those who comment.

Thursday, April 1, 2010