Monday, August 30, 2010

Judging Missionaries By the Numbers

We praise Ammon as a great missionary and rarely mention his brethren in the same light. We take Ammon's success and often assume it was because he was more perceptive in how he approached missionary work - by serving rather than preaching. However, it's worth considering something as it relates to our assumptions and natural biases.

Each missionary in question fulfilled his mission obediently, but Ammon got the easier assignment, frankly. He got a king who offered him a daughter to marry BEFORE he started serving the king; his brothers were rejected out of hand and ended up being abused in prison. I'm not about to criticize them for their work and tell them they should have just done what Ammon did - that they would have been more "successful" if they had understood missionary work better and/or had chosen to serve instead of preach. That's like saying those who get called to Spain and maybe see one baptism somehow are less in tune or righteous than those who serve in Mexico and see lots of baptisms, even though they "serve" and "preach" similarly. We rightly reject that conclusion now, I hope; why do we hang onto it with Ammon and his brethren?

Likewise, why do we measure missionary success as a function of numerical baptisms - especially when the "missionary manual" (Preach My Gospel) says over and over again that we should not do so?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Charity: What is the Truth in which We Should Rejoice?

I ended my New Year's Resolution post last week, focusing on the idea that charity "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" with the following concluding paragraphs:

The foundation of the joy / rejoicing we seek in this life, if it is grounded in "truth" can be found in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that he has gone unto the Father, that our hope in his illuminating and enabling journey is not in vain, that where he has gone we can follow. (see the full message of 1 Cointhians 13:12)

I believe that "rejoicing in truth" is elevated, if you will, by this hope, while "rejoicing in iniquity" is grounded by those things / ideas / philosophies / actions that keep such hope at bay. I will delve more deeply into specifics next week, but I felt that it was important to delineate the difference carefully in this post first.

I want to complete my resolution posts this month by delving further into the foundation of what I believe to be the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I was tempted to post several links to posts I've written in the past, but I feel like I need to try to write a new post that ties all of the central thoughts from those posts into one post. I hope and pray I can do so in a relatively concise and fluent stream of thought.

In 3 Nephi 27, Jesus gives a sort of "farewell speech" to his disciples. Verses 13-22 are of particular relevance to my resolution regarding charity this month, since I believe they contain not only the "what" of the truth in which we should rejoice but also the "how". Normally, I do not quote extensively from long passages of scriptures on this blog, but I am going to do that tonight - with my own thoughts following each verse:

13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

The heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that His Father lives and sent him to do something specific - His will.

14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil —

The Father's will is to draw all unto the Son to receive a "judgment", based on the lives they have lived - whether they have become good or evil. (That is taking slight liberty with the text, but I believe it is consistent with the entirety of the scriptural canon in our possession.)

15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

Jesus will do the will of the Father. He will "fulfill the measure of his creation" in mortality.

16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

As I have written in multiple posts, "to repent" means "to see with a fresh view" - so those who are able to see with a fresh view and, because of that new view, are baptized in the name of Christ will be "filled". I believe this refers to the Holy Ghost, which gift brings insight into the personal path one must walk in order to be "drawn to Christ" and "do the will of the Father" in one's own life.

Being "filled" does not guarantee being held guiltless at the last day. That comes only to those who "remain filled" by enduring to the end - or, in the words of Matthew 5:48, become "perfect (complete, whole, fully developed) even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect".

17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

Quitting in the process of becoming (stagnating and not continuing to grow) is what damns (makes of no worth).

18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

God keeps his word.

19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) Therefore, none of us, in and of ourselves, are "clean" and worthy of entrance into the kingdom. Our cleanliness is a direct result of our willingness to be washed in his blood - and that occurs at the practical level by believing so deeply and strongly that we change ("exercising faith unto repentance" - Alma 34: 15-17) continually and constantly until the very end, when we reach completion, wholeness and full development and change no longer is necessary.

20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

Communing with God occurs through the sanctifying presence of the Holy Ghost, so, in a nutshell, we are drawn to the Father by accepting the Son and communing with the Spirit without ceasing (even amid our stumbling and falling and temporary failing).

21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;

Our charge is simple: Do what Jesus did. How that plays out exactly in our own lives is to be directed by the Holy Ghost, but, at the heart, our purpose simply is to emulate the life of Jesus to the degree that it is possible for us and in the ways we fell led to embrace as we commune with the Holy Ghost.

22 Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.

Surely, this is our hope and the "goal" of our faith.

This, I believe, is the "truth" in which charity rejoiceth - that even though death and iniquity affect and are a part of all who have lived, ALL have the opportunity to repent (change) and rise above that "natural man" and be drawn to the Father through the Son. Charity rejoiceth in this truth, I believe, when we recognize the universal application and reach of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, grant him the power to embrace and reach all, and, in turn, embrace and reach out to all throughout our lives - until the end - as he did in his own life.

We cannot give up on ourselves, and we cannot give up on others. We must rejoice in the truth that God loves all his children and sent Jesus to live, be lifted up and draw all his children back to him. There will be some who choose to reject that plan, but we must avoid acting as Judge or jury by loving and serving all with whom we come into contact - to some degree, as our own circumstances allow and promptings motivate.

Learning the Discussions Does Not Convert

In the early days of the Church, the initial focus was on two "simple" things - the Book of Mormon and the calling of a new prophet. The earliest missionaries didn't "teach about" the Book of Mormon much; they gave someone a copy and asked them to read it. They didn't give them selected passages to teach specific doctrines; they had them read it cover to cover, while praying about it as they read.

Reading Moroni 10:3-5 came at the end of over 500 pages of reading about God's mercy to the people in those 500 pages. It came after reading over 500 pages where Jesus and The Father are mentioned well over 1000 times, in pages that reflect on the mercy of God from Adam and Moses through their day on to ours.

If I could change one thing about our missionary "program", it would be to encourage our members to invite people to attend church with them and read the Book of Mormon cover to cover - only introducing them to full-time missionaries after they had expressed interest in learning more.

As I read "Preach My Gospel", the central message I get is that there are certain things that need to be accepted prior to baptism, but
understanding and believing in God's grace and mercy and turning to Him with a sincere heart and open mind is what converts - not being "taught the discussions".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Foresight in Inspired Callings

[NOTE: This post is not claiming that all callings are inspired - or even that all leadership callings are inspired. I don't believe that. However, I believe many are - and this post address those that are.]

I believe that there is something everyone can learn from every calling they fulfill, but I don't think the Lord wants an entire ward or stake to suffer in order for one person to grow. In my experience, however, when it comes to truly inspired callings of Bishops and Stake Presidents (and auxiliary and priesthood presidents), there generally is a particular reason that a particular person is going to be needed in the future - so that person is called.

I have experienced a ward that went through certain problems that required a very strong, single-minded, no-nonsense, "iron rod" Bishop. A soft-spoken consensus builder would have been eaten alive and spit out. (I mean that seriously. The ward might have imploded.) The Lord knew in advance what trials that ward would face, so he called someone who could handle those trials - even though some other issues arose as a result of some members not reacting as well to such a personality. When those trials passed, the Bishop was released - and a soft-spoken, incredibly humble and gentle man was called to take his place. It was revelation through the Stake President in the truest sense.

Each was the right person for his specific time because of the particular strengths each possessed that were a perfect match for the issues of his own administration. Yes, they learned lessons while they served, but I am convinced that their learning of those lessons was not the primary reason they were called. They were secondary to the needs of the body of Christ they led.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Incorrect Assumptions of Arrogance

There is a fine line between arrogance or smugness and simply answering the best one can based on one’s study, prayer and contemplation. That is much harder to discern in print than in person, since there is no vocal tone to weigh; it’s much easier to discern in person than in print, especially for those who know the person making the statement.

Arrogance is easy to assume when reading comments, even when there is no arrogance in the heart of the commenter. Many of the comments in the Bloggernacle, for example, that appear to convey arrogance or smugness would not cause any ripples whatsoever if they were made in person to those who know the commenters.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interpreting Controversial Scriptures

When reading scriptures, there are so many ways to interpret nearly everything that is written that it is difficult to say with certainty that one interpretation is right and all others are wrong. This is true especially for verses that are controversial in our own time - and even ignored completely by most Christians. An example:

“Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” (I Corinthians 14:34)

One way to interpret is to take the words literally as the inerrant will of God. In the case of the verse above, I know of at least one denominational sub-group that takes the words literally and does not allow women to speak in church meetings.

Another way to interpret is to read the words in verses like this as inspired statements addressed to the specific people hearing or reading them and no one else - including others of that same time. I have heard the verse above parsed thus:

Your traditions and culture in Corinth do not permit women to speak in church. "It is not permitted unto them" here in Corinth. Therefore, just as we should not eat meat in the presence of vegetarians, "your women (should) keep silence in the churches" - even though the women in Thessalonica can speak in the churches there.

This view is bolstered by the same admonition about speaking in tongues without an interpreter in 1 Cor. 14:28.

A different way to interpret is to attribute the idea to the speaker - as a personal statement, not as a command from God. In the case of women remaining silent in church, this is bolstered by 1 Tim. 2:11-12 - where Paul repeats the general instruction then adds,

"I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence."

The implication can be read in such a wording that this is Paul's bias - that "(HE) suffer(s) not a woman to teach, usurp or speak," but that this did not come from above (neither from Peter nor from God).

Again, we can understand statements in just about any way we choose, so I believe it is up to us to do so in whatever way makes the most sense to us - and quit thinking our way is the only way, and anyone who disagrees is a blind, stupid sheep or an evil liar. The following is good advice for all, in my opinion:

Do the best you can to gain a personal understanding and allow others the same privilege without getting riled up or snotty and condescending toward their views.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whether in Iniquity or Truth, Life Should Be About Rejoicing

As I contemplated further this week the idea in 1 Corinthians 13:6 that charity "rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth", I leaned toward writing about something that I will end up addressing next week. This week, instead, I want to emphasize a simple thought that struck me again today - that life is meant to be about rejoicing. Therefore, one of our central efforts should be to find something in life in which we can rejoice - ideally something that can be classified as "truth" and not "iniquity".

There are a few quotes that sprang to mind while I considered this, the first of which is obvious to any Mormon who reads this post.

First, 2 Nephi 2:25:

Adam fell that men might be, and men are, that they might have joy.

This is one of the clearest and most straightforward declarations regarding the **practical** purpose of mortality in all of canonized scripture. For this post, I don't want to get into a semantic discussion of the meaning of the word "joy". Rather, I simply want to reiterate that we are created to "have" joy.

I see a huge difference between "having" joy and "feeling" joy. I wrote almost exactly two years ago about this exact topic at least twice (Feelings vs. Actions and Pursuing Joy), and I don't want to revisit the entire concept in this post. Suffice it for now to stress that feeling something can be transitory, while having something implies internalization or ownership that lasts. Another way of phrasing "to have joy" might be "to be joyful continually" - and that is a worthy desire indeed.

Second, Doctrine & Covenants 93:36:

The glory of God is intelligence - or, in other words, light and truth.

Without going into great detail, intelligence is defined in this verse as being able to see clearly what "is". I wrote tangentially about this definition earlier this year (Spiritual Intelligence & Humility), but what I want to highlight here is that there is an important element of being able to see one's way ahead in the undertaking of a journey.

In Exodus 3:14, Moses is told by the Lord:

I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

If the eternal purpose of life is to walk a pathway back to the prescence of God (to be able to say "I AM" - see Romans 8:17 & 1 John 3:2) - to travel to His destination, if you will (see Revelations 3:21) - it is critical to strive to see that pathway as clearly as possible (even if, as Paul says, we still see through our glass, darkly).

Third, John 14:27-28 and 1 Corinthians 15:19:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

The foundation of the joy / rejoicing we seek in this life, if it is grounded in "truth" can be found in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - that he has gone unto the Father, that our hope in his illuminating and enabling journey is not in vain, that where he has gone we can follow. (see the full message of 1 Cointhians 13:12)

I believe that "rejoicing in truth" is elevated, if you will, by this hope, while "rejoicing in iniquity" is grounded by those things / ideas / philosophies / actions that keep such hope at bay. I will delve more deeply into specifics next week, but I felt that it was important to delineate the difference carefully in this post first.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Acting in the Name of God Is Not Exclusively for Men Who Are Ordained - or for Mormons

I often wonder if very many members truly understand the nature of baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost as a bestowal of access to the power of godliness - which is one definition we use to describe the Priesthood. After all, the commands are to "take upon us the name of Christ" and “receive the Holy Ghost” - with the understanding that such a reception can provide access to the Holy Ghost (a member of the Godhead) continually. Thus, although we often say that holding the Priesthood means being able to act in the name of God, in reality all who are baptized, at the very least, are authorized to be called Christ's own and act in his behalf and name - and all who are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost are challenged to live in such a way that they act according to the promptings of a member of the Godhead.

I am NOT saying that all members who receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost “hold the Priesthood” in the classic sense of being able to perform Priesthood ordinances. I’m just saying most of us don’t realize how expansive “the power to act in the name of God” really is. Priesthood administration of ordinances is important, but it’s only one aspect of acting in the name of God - and it's the only aspect that currently is exclusive to men who have been ordained to offices in the Priesthood. In fact, even that isn't totally correct, since women perform Priesthood ordinances in the temple; the exclusivity only exists in the "lone and dreary world".

I also believe it is important to reiterate that, according to Mormon theology, ALL who ever have been born into this world are spirit children of Heavenly Parents - and, as such, have the same right to receive personal revelation as a result of that heritage as any member of the LDS Church. If they receive personal revelation from God and act on it, they are acting in the name of God every bit as much as I am when I do so - and, although different in function, every bit as much as I do when performing Priesthood ordinances. We are acting in different spheres, if you will, with different responsibilities, but we are acting equally as individual sons and daughters of God within our respective spheres.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Becoming Is More Important Than Doing

“The suggestion here is clear: one can be a worthy LDS woman without living up all the time to the Mormon church’s ideal vision of woman … Writing such a laudatory biography of an ancestor who sometimes lapsed, I believe, permits a contemporary woman to be more tolerant of her own lapses, recognizing – if only subliminally – that a woman does not have to be perfect to be worthy of praise and honor.”

I love this quote, because I think it reflects so well the core foundation of the Gospel - hard work coupled with an understanding that our failures in our efforts to become perfect are less important than the effort itself. What we become is more important than what we do.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Golden Rule of Blogging

“Say unto others as you would have them say unto you.”

(I know someone said something like that sometime ago.)

Seriously, I fail occasionally to follow this rule and end up responding too quickly on blogs, but I have a rule to re-read what I have written prior to submitting it and make sure I wouldn't get ticked off if it was being said to me. I nearly always regret it when I don't follow the rule, even in situations where the conversation is flowing so quickly that waiting to re-read and edit causes my comment to appear a bit disjointed when it posts. Hurrying just isn't worth the mistakes I make when I do - both in wording and in tone.

When it becomes a true habit, it happens even with posts like this one - where I know there isn't anything hurtful in what I am typing. I have read this post more than once as I've edited each paragraph. It works for me - when I remember to do it. When I don't, I often end up saying something that doesn't need to be said.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Charity Rejoiceth Not in Iniquity but Rejoiceth in the Truth

When I wrote my initial New Year's Resolution post last week about charity not rejoicing in iniquity but rejoicing in the truth, I asked for input and insight from readers of this blog and one more where I participate regularly. I appreciate the responses I received, and I am going to copy or excerpt from each of them here and add my own commentary in [brackets] and italics - again, with thanks for what everyone taught me this week:

It includes "rejoicing" (even if only inwardly) when someone "gets his/her due."

[I thought immediately of an experience when I lived in the Deep South, when a murderer was executed by the state. People gathered at the prison, including many who had not been affected directly by the man's crime - to throw a celebratory party starting the moment he was killed. I believe that such a response constitutes a rejoicing that constitutes iniquity.]

Perhaps part of rejoicing in the truth means to celebrate the good that people do rather than seeking occasion against them.

[We have the ability to decide those things upon which we focus in relation to others - even when we can't avoid acknowledging the good AND the bad - the iniquity AND the truth, if you will. This insight brought to mind how I have heard people describe Brigham Young - some focusing on statements and practices with which they struggle or which they reject, while others acknowledge those things but focus on other statements, practices and actions that highlight his noble characteristics. I believe how we approach complex people like Pres. Young illustrates as much about ourselves as it does about him.]

We often need clear descriptions of what good behavior looks like in order to do differently-many of us would like to do better but do not know what that may look like in effect.

[This is an excellent point - that we need to understand what constitutes iniquity and what constitutes truth in order to rejoice in one and not the other. I think this will be the focus of my post next weekend.]

I think that to not rejoice in iniquity can also mean to not re-hash our past sins in a way that makes them sound glorious or fun. Sometimes people seem almost proud to be able to say "I did this" in order to show that they're "normal" and almost end up bragging about their iniquities . . . We could rejoice in the truth as it has been applied to our lives, rejoice in those things that bring light, not take away from it.

[I agree totally that there is an aspect of accepting the Atonement in this resolution - in the sense that not re-hashing our past sins and those of others (especially those who truly have repented) allows those sins to be forgiven and those individuals to be redeemed in our own eyes. It can be an incredibly liberating practice to let go of past mistakes once we have requested forgiveness sincerely - to not "rejoice" in our own iniquities and, thereby, "vaunt" ourselves above what truth would allow.]

Relationships need to be based on truth, and not lies. Too often we seek to preserve face, and aren't as honest with each other as we ought to be. Openness and honesty allows charity to flourish; walls and deceit do not. I think that even unpleasant truths can call for rejoicing, because acknowledgment and acceptance are the first steps to healing.

[I really like this idea, and I want to emphasize the last part - that part of healing is exposing our "sickness" (our iniquity, in the case of this post) and allowing it to be healed. I'm not saying we need to expose everything that would constitute iniquity to all whom we meet, but allowing others to see us as flawed, imperfect, conflicted, messed-up believers often can be a great help and healing for those who too often judge themselves against the facade they see on Sundays - the facades that hide our warts and make us look whole.]

I feel that "truth" is the "light" inside all of us. Therefore, "iniquity" is not following the "light" and "truth" is embracing the "light".

[I believe strongly that we should not rejoice in anything that feels dark or loathsome to us - but that we should rejoice in what brings us light and hope and peace and love. Perhaps that is as simple as it gets - but it is profound enough to be the foundation of another post this month.]

  • Charity doesn't grin when something bad befalls, but loves knowing that others and self are one.
  • Charity isn't a gloater, but instead empathizes in pure knowledge of the unity of mankind.
  • Charity doesn't dance at the doom of others, but dances in continual harmony.
  • Charity knows that all things will be made right in the end, so it doesn't delight in exacting justice today.
  • Charity loves not that evil befalls, but delights to know that all is as it should be eternally.

[There's not much I can add to that, except for my ringing endorsement of both the statements themselves and the effort to articulate various ways of phrasing the concept.]

Charity is strengthened by acts that reinforce what it is (love, light, truth), and weakened - or at least to some degree attacked - by opposing acts. To me is says "it is not enough to simply proclaim love, you must live it in the trenches where it is not always easy."

[That is a great way to close this post - by emphasizing that charity is not just a noun (a passive feeling in one's heart) but rather a verb (an active lifestyle - an internal viewpoint that drives one's very life, both what one feels and what one does as a result of those feelings). The goal should not be to "have charity" but rather to "be charitable" - or to "become charity personified". In a way, perhaps when real faith in who we are created to become moves and motivates to seek and live truth and eschew iniquity, what emerges is charity - seen in the lives of those who are moved and motivated. Perhaps charity is both a pathway - a "fresh view" - that illuminates the way ahead AND the destination itself - becoming a new creature that fills the measure of its creation by being filled with love.]

Friday, August 13, 2010

Modern Visions

I believe that visions and other spiritual manifestations continue in our day, but, due to the general lack of acceptance in our society, they simply are not shared as openly.

My wife had a very clear dream concerning a daughter we would have. The most memorable part of the dream was the specific hair color. It was more than obvious; it was VIVID. It also was completely clear to my wife that this was an individual child - and that the dream really was a “manifestation”. Since my wife normally is not a “dreamer”, this one stayed with her.

Without that dream, we might have stopped earlier than we did, but she knew we hadn’t had that baby yet. We do now. It’s easy for others to discount that experience, but to us it is crystal clear.

I have had a couple of “visions” in my life, but nothing like those described by Joseph and many early saints - or like the one I just described of my wife's. Mine are more like suddenly seeing something very clearly in picture form - and they are unique for me in that I simply don’t “see” things in picture form, ever. I just am not a visual person.

That also highlights the last reason, in my opinion, that we live in a less “visionary” time. We define “visions” in light of “spectacular” events and often fail to recognize our own experiences as visions.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Let Go and Grow

If you are in control of your life, you are missing much of what the Lord would like to help you experience. Whether it is through a calling (you or your spouse) or an unexpected stressful event or something else, He will help you grow in more ways than you can imagine - if you are willing to give up control of your life.

Now I know there are different degrees of control and different areas of control - and that being in control of what you can and should control is a great thing, but some of my greatest growth has come from things that were not within my control.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Limits on Likening to Ourselves

I parse things I read and hear first, then I interpret. I believe it is important to grant the writer or speaker the benefit of the doubt and believe the words they actually use before looking for a way to interpret what they say. If for some reason I don’t feel confident that I have found the author’s original intent, I don’t mind getting more than one possible meaning or lesson or interpretation out of a text - even if only one of them was meant by the writer.

I believe in likening things unto myself - when the original intent doesn’t seem obvious. There are some times, however, when doing so can create some doozies. For example, I personally am not going to try to call down fire from heaven on anyone in the near future, even though that might be a simple way of likening Old Testament scripture to myself.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Request for Advice and Help

When I wrote my New Year's Resolution post at the beginning of the year, I had no idea what my life would be like at the beginning of this month - and how difficult it would be to write the introductory post for my resolution this month. I have been incredibly busy this week, and I have had a very hard time organizing my thoughts to begin my focus on "rejoicing less in iniquity and more in truth". Therefore, I am doing something I have not done in the 2 1/2 years I've been pursuing this resolutions path - not writing a post at the beginning of the month and asking instead for input and help in beginning and framing this focus. I simply am at a loss.

So, please consider my resolution this month and give me advice about how you would begin to address the idea that charity "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth".

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Atonement Rarely Gets Addressed from the Perspective of the Father

There is an old, short movie produced by the Church entitled, "The Bridge". In summary, it depicts the choice a father must make to sacrifice his son or the passengers of a train as he controls the switch that either will allow the train to cross the bridge and kill his son who is running across that bridge or swing the bridge in such a way that his son will survive while the train crashes. The following is a statement made by someone criticizing that movie and my response:

"It becomes trite, not majestic, when one tells a story like this. It makes the Atonement seem like a cheap parlor trick."

"Maybe for you and some other adults, but the basic construct can teach a powerful lesson for the children and teenagers for whom it was intended - who have no personal frame of reference for the concept of a parent who would watch a child die willingly and not intervene to provide help when He seems to have that power. The Atonement rarely gets addressed from the perspective of the Father who did not intervene. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son." Most kids really don't get that, and many adults don't get it until they have kids. Some don't even get it then - and many of the common constructs of the Trinity essentially deny the need to understand how one separate Being (the Father) interacted with another (the Son). Without the foundational aspect of separate beings comprising one Godhead, the film makes no sense whatsoever.

Are there flaws in the analogy? Of course, there are flaws in all analogies. Can it make a very simple point in a powerful, visual way - something to help somewhat immature and inexperienced hearts and minds begin to grasp it? Yes. God, the Father, really did love all of us enough to allow His Son to die for us - enough to not intervene and save that Son while we all die. There really are two separate Beings in this narrative, and the Father literally was an active participant - first, of course, in strengthening Jesus in the Garden, but also in stepping back and "forsaking" Jesus as He died.

The film does a pretty good job capturing that aspect in a way that resonates in our current world, which is what analogies are all about - imperfect though they are."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Soldiers and the Sacrament

Going to Church in Iraq - Kevin Barney, for Eric Russell (By Common Consent)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reward and Punishment as a Condition of Existence

In very practical terms, I believe that our "rewards" and "punishments" are determined within what we become.

In other words, in the end, we will BE our own reward or punishment
- with grace / the Atonement providing the leeway allowed for us to muddle around and make mistakes as we become.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Am Baffled, but Grateful

"If we acknowledge god when a child gets better, then we are also obliged to acknowledge god when the child dies."

That quote is true only if we assume God saves all who live and does not save all who die. Reality baffles me - specifically because it's not so black and white. I have a child who has been spared quite dramatically, but I also have family who have died quite traumatically.

I have an aunt who choked at the dinner table - in front of four of her kids - while two others were serving missions - while my uncle was a very faithful bishop. While one of the kids called 911, he tried to bless her to live until she could receive proper medical care. He opened his mouth and nothing came out. He broke contact, tried again, and nothing happened. He relaxed, cleared his mind and blessed her to die quickly and peacefully. She was dead before the paramedics arrived.

I have an uncle who died from a bee sting to the neck. He was given a conscious choice to remain dead or return to his family. He chose to return - having felt incredible peace and joy in death, but also having seen what would happen particularly to one of his sons.

My wife has an aunt who had seven children at home when she was killed in a car accident as she was turning into her driveway. She had been distracted and swerved into the path of an oncoming car. Her death caused ripple effects among her kids. Some people said, "It was her time; God must have called her home." I can't buy that, since I can't believe God caused her to be distracted so she could die that day and leave behind children whose lives were impacted so negatively.

So, I am left baffled and puzzled. He saves some; he binds the mouths of some as others die; he sits back while drunks and crack addicts and abusive parents kill others. It would be very easy to eliminate him completely from the picture and chalk it ALL up to nothing more than chance - but I can't eliminate what I have come to understand through the blessings in which I have participated and the real "saving" I have witnessed. I know he saves some, so I am left to wonder why He does not save others.

I don't see the big, full picture, and, ironically, it is the small glimpses I do get here and there that keep me from abandoning the idea that there is one - even when I have no real clue what those glimpses mean. Even though they leave me baffled, I am grateful for them.