Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sin, Transgression, Repentance: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

As a follow-up to yesterday's post and Matthew's comment on it

In the purest scriptural sense, I view "transgression" as everything that keeps us from becoming like God. I believe many of those things are the natural result of "the Fall" - or, in other words, are the by-product of Adam's transgression. I believe our 2nd Article of Faith teaches that we have been redeemed / saved from many of those things already, since we didn't choose them willfully.

I view "sin", on the other hand, as those things we intentionally choose to do (or not do) that keep us from becoming like God - knowing or believing that we need to do (or not do) them to become like God. I view "repentance" as the process of trying to change our nature and become more Godlike - so, at the most basic level, I view sin as NOT trying to repent (change). To me, it's really not more complicated than that.

I believe sin generally is defined communally by those who want to tell others what to do and not do for the overall good of the collective group (and I have no problem with that general concept, even as I believe much of what is considered to be collective sin is somewhat arbitrary and not "eternal law"), but I believe sin is defined by God on an individually sliding scale - since He is the only one who can look upon the neurology, heredity, environment, societal norms, intelligence, spiritual sensitivity, etc. of each child and know exactly what that child is capable of doing - and what actions are willful rebellion vs. ignorant transgression - proactive vs. reactive - simple correction vs. deeply ingrained inclination - honest mistake vs. intentional error - etc.

In other words, I believe that what is "sin" for me might not be "sin" for another individual (although it all is transgression) - and that there are VERY few things that are "sin" for every single individual in every single situation (rather than sin for one and transgression for another or sin in one situation vs. command in another).  Perhaps the best example of this in all of our recorded scriptures is Nephi and Laban. 

A modern example is also instructive:

Did each and every person who participated in the attacks on 9/11/01 commit sin in doing so - or were the actions of one or more accounted to them as transgression, given their upbringing and youthful indoctrination? I don't know - and I don't take time or spend effort trying to decide.

I believe that "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is MUCH more universal than many people think - and that our 2nd Article of Faith is MUCH more powerful than even most members realize.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Accepting Each Other for Who We Are, Not Just Who We May Become

I have mentioned this in a tribute post to my father, but my mother has a rare form of schizophrenia. Growing up, all we knew was that she needed “sleeping pills” to function properly.

My mother was an amazing example of Christ-like love and acceptance throughout my childhood. I never heard her raise her voice in anger; I never heard her say anything (not one word) negative about anyone else. She was amazing. She was active and aware and fully-functioning in the life my father built for her. Nobody other than my father and her own parents and siblings even knew there was anything wrong with her, since mental issues were not discussed openly at that time.

A few years ago her medication finally stopped working. For the few months it took to find a new combination that would work for her, she was a totally different person. She was paranoid; she had horrible hallucinations; she swore without provocation, using words we didn’t even realize she knew. Once the medication was adjusted properly, she was back to her normal condition - a sweet, incredibly spiritual woman.

“My mother” is the woman I knew while properly medicated, not the monster she became without it. She had a degree of agency during those years that was absent when her meds stopped working. During those months, she literally could not control her mind or her actions - and what came out of her mind and her mouth would have horrified her if she had been aware of it. She literally was not accountable during that time - not at all.

I don’t pretend to understand mental illness, nor do I pretend to understand how such illness interfaces with agency and the interaction of our spirit and body. That is so far beyond my ken that I would be shooting in the dark at a moving target if I tried. All I know is that we have been commanded to judge not, and that I have been told I will be judged as I judge others. I know how desperately I desire mercy and meekness at my own day of judgment, so I try as hard as I can to be merciful and meek myself.

If we truly understood the Atonement better, I think we would understand this issue better - and much of our stress and guilt and heartache would melt away. If we also allowed for those who can’t understand it better (for whatever reason), much of the pressure we tend to apply also would vanish - and we would be more able to accept and love others and ourelves for who we are amid our struggles, not just who we will become once those struggles have ended.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Burden of Depression: Judge Not

I once gave a woman a blessing who was suffering from depression and other related issues. I had no idea of this at the time; she simply called and asked for a blessing.

In the blessing, I remember distinctly hearing her be told that the greatest source of her pain in this life would never go away - that she would struggle with it until the day she died. (Again, I had no idea what the source was. I figured it was some physical ailment when I thought about it afterward.) I also remember distinctly hearing her be told that the joy and freedom she would experience in the next life would be even more exquisite than the pain she would feel here. It was a powerful blessing, and I walked out of her house feeling grateful for the blessing of having been the voice.

Years later (after we had moved away), I was back in town visiting, and I mentioned her blessing to her and asked how she was doing. She told me that she had been crushed by it and had decided to not ask me for a blessing ever again. I asked why, since the promised blessings had been so great. She looked at me with a perplexed look and asked what I meant, so I explained my memory of the blessing.

Her face registered shock, and she said to me, “I never heard the statement that I would be blessed. When I heard that the source of my pain would not be healed, I was so crushed that I tuned out the rest of the words.”

That experience taught me more about depression and other related issues than anything I have ever studied. She had carried an additional burden with her for years after receiving that blessing. She had seen that “blessing” as a “cursing” - and that “understanding” wasn’t at all her “fault”. It wasn’t anyone’s “fault”; it simply was what it was - the reaction of a woman caught in the middle of depression.

Oh, and my son’s insulin is no different in my mind than a pill someone takes for depression. They both are wonderful blessings.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book of Mormon Historicity: I Don't Care

We don't know enough about the location of the BofM account once it leaves the Old World to have any idea of how to prove its historicity based on site discoveries, and we don't know enough about the overall genetic makeup of Lehi's group and the Jaredites - or about how widespread each culture was - or about how extensively they intermingled with other groups (especially the Lamanites, who didn't keep a record to which we have access) - or about the genetic makeup of the other numerous peoples who were led to the promised land - or any other factors that would help us identify and trace the people mentioned in it. When you discount some of the assumptions of the early church leaders (that truly were no more than assumptions and aren't supported by the book itself) by parsing the text closely, it is next to impossible to make solid historicity claims on either side - pro or con. 

Therefore, I don't fret about it. I take it as primarily three men's interpretation of history (Nephi, Mormon and Moroni - with a very little of other individuals) - written in an adapted language different than the spoken one of the time (much like the relationship between written Japanese - borrowed and adapted from the very different Chinese - and spoken Japanese) and then translated into a third language by someone who only had his own vocabulary available to use (meaning the record had to be revealed in the limited language of the translator). Add to that dilemma, words that simply wouldn't have been translatable from one culture or region to another culture or region, and you have almost nothing that can be verified objectively. Add to that the regular assertion that not 1/100 of what was taught was recorded, then that not 1/100 of what was recorded was compiled into the abridgment . . .

If the Book of Mormon was a hoax, it was one of the most elaborate, brilliant hoaxes ever conceived, when evaluated against its own internal claims, but I don't fret it. It's next to impossible to prove it one way or the other, so I take historicity off the table (in my case, by accepting it at face value) and focus instead on what it actually says. That works for me, and I get to avoid wasting time worrying about what can't be proven either way.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Welcome to My Mind and My Heart

I have been traveling this week and am exhausted tonight. I am not ready to put my thoughts together for a typical New Year's Resolution post on charity, so I ask that anyone reading this be charitable and understand why I am choosing instead to re-post a long-past post.

I have considered which post to choose, and I hope the decision was inspired. If not, at least enjoy reading something from long enough ago that perhaps you missed it when I first wrote it - just over three years ago. It struck me that most of you who read my blog now did not do so when I first started recording the things of my soul, so I decided to re-post the personal introduction I wrote when I started this blog.

So, without further ado, here is a look at me:

Welcome to my life and mind.

Unlike my wife, I lean more toward the "record the things of my spirit" motivation for blogging. I blog primarily to record how I view life, in order to preserve for my posterity my perspective on eternity and the mortal issues that, IMO, influence eternity. Generally, I am not as verbose as my wife - which really says something about her prodigious compilations. Concise, I am not. Furthermore, I have been told my common sentence composition puts Dickens and Hugo to shame - linguistic slackers that they are - not in quality of their vocabulary, but rather in the simplicity of their sentence structure. My mind meanders from point of interest to point of interest, and it takes more exertion than I often am willing to offer to restrict the journey to a straight and narrow path.

Having said that, I am an unrepentant parser. I try to be very clear about what I say, which is one reason I have a hard time writing simple, non-complex sentences - as my tendency to try to avoid confusion and misunderstanding often leads to a type of verbosity that requires slow and careful reading and, by extension, sometimes causes confusion. Such is life. I insist on addressing what others say, not what the reader assumes or thinks they must mean behind the words, since that is a courtesy I request from others.

I am personally conservative in my own lifestyle and, I have been told by many, quite perplexing in the balance I strive to achieve in my religious and political views. I believe in teaching correct principles and letting people govern themselves - primarily as a product of believing the Golden Rule. I will request a conversation cease if people are talking past each other, not listening in order to understand and merely trying to shout down the other party; however, I never will request such a cessation simply because of fundamental disagreement - regardless of the intensity of the discussion.

I am a teacher by inclination and initial training, a salesman / admissions counselor by trade, a preacher at heart (if not a Mormon, I would live at a pulpit), a musical performer and public speaker by nature and, most importantly, a husband of 24 years and father of 6 kids (and numerous non-biological "children" - hence, "Papa D") by choice and grace.

Welcome to my mind and my heart (and my sense of humor that both makes my wife laugh and embarrasses her on a regular basis). I hope you welcome me to yours.

Friday, October 22, 2010

When the Voice of Warning Is Not Appropriate

I believe there is an important line between a "loving" warning given gently and sincerely and a "loving" warning given from a sense of superiority and condescension to "save" someone. However, I also think losing the sense of concern that motivates a warning is worse than the warning itself. If we ever get to the point where we truly don't care enough to warn someone we love when we believe they are hurting themselves . . .

To be clear, some of the most obnoxious, hurtful statements I've ever heard have been given by people who did so thinking they were correcting out of love. I also understand that the most loving thing I can do in certain situations is to shut up - after it's been made clear that the other person doesn't share my view of the danger. That's one of my points - that once a "warning" has been given and understood clearly, generally it's up to us to honor agency and stop warning.

For example, if someone says, "I don't want to be contacted by Home Teachers or the Church," we should honor that and stop contacting them. Ironically, that is HT in the truest sense - providing the service the individual wants. I have no problem with an annual "check up" phone call or note ("Do you still want no contact?"), but anything more is moving from a warning voice to a constant and alienating telemarketing call.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Atheism, Agnosticism,Theism & Mormonism

I see atheism and agnosticism as diametrically opposed to each other or exactly the same thing, depending on the type of agnosticism one practices.

I see "pure" atheism as the assertion that God does not exist and that those who believe in God are wrong. Pure atheism is a religion in every meaningful way. I see "pure" agnosticism as the assertion that we can't know whether or not God exists, so it is up to us to live whatever moral or societal code we believe best matches what God would want if He does exist or what would be best for us individually and collectively if He does not exist - which generally respects religious conviction as good even if the central claim of knowledge of God's existence is assumed to be false, as long as the practical results of that conviction are good. On the other hand, I see "distorted" agnosticism as the assertion that any claim to know of God's existence is destructive and delusional and should be educated out of the ignorant believers and replaced with uncertainty. In other words, it's OK to believe in God as long as you don't claim to know that God exists. That stance, in practice, is just atheism's more attractive twin.

Pure atheism and distorted agnosticism share the same missionary focus at heart as most forms of theism. Pure agnosticism does not share this focus, as its central core is that all must work out their own understanding, as the pure agnostic only can be sure of his or her own perspective. In other words, agnosticism is personal and focused on the individual; atheism and theism are collective and focused on spreading "the truth".

The interesting category to me are those religions, like Mormonism, that are a mixture of a deeply personal theism that includes actively sharing that theism with others and yet, ultimately, agnostic in the practical application of individual accountability - teaching that those who believe differently but act in dedicated accordance with their sincere beliefs have just as much chance for every "reward" received by those who believe the "Truth". Mormonism is SO much more complex than any other Christian religion I have studied (and I have studied them all of any significant size) that I am blown away by its origins and evolution.

As a religion, atheism is easy and simple and immature. It is the couch critic who inherited money, never had to work and looks down on everyone who struggles to understand their life's meaning amid pain and suffering. In that sense, atheism is meaningless at the purely personal level. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is deeply meaningful at the individual level.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Church-Wide Vanilla; Individual Flavoring

“Is it the Church’s duty to create a list called “dirty laundry” and then say, “These are troubling issues that some people have, and here is our best take on them”?

No, not “The Church” at the top leadership level. Their duty is to preach Jesus resurrected and His Church restored. If people want academic treatments, they should turn to academicians to provide them; if they want scientific answers, they should turn to scientists to provide them; if they want historical perspective, they should turn to historians to provide it; if they want “witnessing” answers, they should turn to witnesses to provide them.

I don’t want “The Church” to reincarnate Bruce R. McConkie expressing personal opinion on non-Gospel topics as official doctrine. I want Kevin Barney and Ardis Parshall and Armand Mauss and Richard Bushman and Jan Shipps and Bill McKinnon and Henry Eyring and Hugh Nibley and others to “explain” Mormon history and science and scriptural exegesis and other topics. I want the apostles and prophets to preach and minister and administer.

I don’t want “The Church” to spoon-feed me everything I should eat, pureed to a consistency any baby could digest. I have no problem with generic presentations and statements for the general membership, but I want to figure out how to digest the full feast in its complex form - or to put aside some of the food temporarily and not even try to digest it. I don’t mind if others help me decide what to eat raw, what to boil, what to grill, what to puree and what to discard, but I don’t want “The Church” turning everything into a blended shake that someone thinks should go down smoothly and not cause any indigestion. I like the diverse flavors and consistencies of my food too much to want pablum.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Charity Believeth All Things: The 9th and 13th Articles of Faith

As I have continued to consider what Paul might have meant when he said that "charity believeth all things", I have found myself focusing this week on the 9th and 13th Articles of Faith. They apply differently to this idea, but I believe each application has merit and insight - so I want to address both of them in this post.

First, the 9th Article of Faith:

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

What I take from this statement is that we believe whatever God reveals, whenever He reveals it - and, in conjunction with my post last week about being open-minded, no matter the source to whom He reveals it. This implies that charity includes a willingness to set aside all natural arrogance and accept the idea that God can and will speak to ANY of His children - and then believe what He has said, no matter if it comes to "our own" in the past ("has revealed"), in the present ("does now reveal") and in the future ("will yet reveal") or to "others" at any of those times.

This is a part of charity specifically because it blunts the natural arrogance that assumes God chose, chooses and will choose a particular people to be the exclusive beneficiaries of His word - which almost always (if not always) includes the accompanying assumption of higher worth, worthiness or inherent value. This is not a conclusion that applies only to those who do NOT accept on-going revelation and living prophets. It also applies to those who DO accept the general premise of past, present and future revelation - if they ascribe a lack of revelation or worthiness to those outside "their own", generally. (That is perhaps the most pernicious effect of many of the justifications for the Priesthood ban, for example - the fact that some members used worthiness as a reason for the ban and, thus, were not truly charitable toward those who were not able to be ordained and endowed for that season.)

Next, the 13th Article of Faith begins with the following:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men.

This listing of things we believe focuses on godly characteristics and actions, rather than philosophical, intellectual or doctrinal concepts or ideologies. It also is not focused on understanding these characteristics, but, rather, it is focused on internalizing and living them - becoming or being them. Again, with the fundamental caveat that I believe we are talking about all good things, this seems to emphasize that truly believing something includes a commitment to act - rather than simply understand intellectually. Much like "faith without works is dead, being alone", belief without becoming / being is dead.

Thus, charity believing all things might have specific reference to believing in striving to become Christlike (believing all things that He taught, including the need to become like Him) - and the attendant acceptance of both faith AND repentance.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Eve Didn't Know What She Was Doing

Many members have taken the stance recently that Eve knew what she was doing when she partook of the forbidden fruit - that her action was noble and enlightened. However, the idea that Eve acted knowing that she was furthering God's plan and doing the right thing isn’t supported in either the text or the temple.

I believe this for three reasons:

1) Her own words state that she was beguiled. ("The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." - Genesis 3:13) "Beguiled" means "tricked, misled, deluded" - NOT knowledgeable and insightful. She says she was tricked; I believe her - at least, I would if I took the story literally.

2) 2 Nephi 2:18 makes a direct connection from Lucifer's status as "the father of all lies" and what he said to Eve. Thus, his statement to Eve was a lie - and she bought it, acting as she did because she believed a lie.

3) It appears to me that Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden less for partaking of the fruit than for doing so at the behest of Lucifer. In other words, they were punished for placing their trust in the devil instead of their God. God knew Lucifer would try to get them to disobey Him, so he set up a scenario that would test them. According to their own account and God's subsequent words and actions, I believe they failed the test.

In fact, I would argue that it isn't clear that Eve actually was "doing the right thing" by partaking. I agree completely that leaving the Garden of Eden ("falling from the presence of God") was a necessary part of the plan (that "Adam fell that man might be"), but there is nothing in the text or the temple that indicates Eve knew what she was doing.

I think the Fall narrative teaches the danger of trying to take shortcuts in becoming like God and introduces a reason for the struggle and temptations of mortality.

Interestingly, there is nothing to indicate whether or not God had an alternate way for them to leave the Garden of Eden if they stood firm and refused to partake of the fruit - if they could have "fallen" and still faced mortal temptation with their progeny without buying Lucifer's lie in the Garden of Eden.

Fundamentally, I don't believe this was a literal event, so that last possibility doesn't bother me at all. I believe it is allegorical and figurative, so the "you will be punished if you reject your God and follow another god" theme rings true for me - especially given the ebb and flow of the OT record. I don't read the narrative as a victory of any kind. I read it as teaching, "If you don't follow my commandments and resist temptation to take shortcuts, you will lose the blessing of my influence. I will provide a way to return, but it will be painful - and you will have to work hard for it to happen."

Frankly, I think Eve ate the fruit in the story because the story was written by men in order to explain the social, political, gender-influenced structure in which they lived. I believe it is an inspired narrative in many ways, and I believe it is an amazingly practical narrative, but I believe it is a figurative narrative just the same. I believe in a literal first man and first woman, but not in the literalness of the Biblical Fall narrative.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Scriptural Interpretation Is Our Right As Children of God

A while ago I read someone's assertion that, "Apostles and prophets have far more authority to 'interpret' scripture than mere laymen do." In my opinion, that is 100% incorrect. Apostles and prophets have authority to speak for the Church, but nobody has more or less authority to "interpret". That is a right and a responsibility that is inherent in our status of children of God, not our individual callings or positions in the organizational church.

There is nothing within "official" Mormonism that discourages lay members from trying to understand our scriptures. In the end, there is FAR more autonomy to read and interpret and strive to reach individual understanding within Mormonism than within most other denominations - believe it or not.

Actually, that's a central part of the "living church" designation - that the Church empowers individuals to learn and grow and progress by allowing and actually encouraging individual testimonies gained by individual study and prayer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Single Adults: Some Thorns Are Harder to Soften Than Others

One of my fondest wishes is that we simply would stop judging each other and our individual situations. I understand and have no problem with the need to preach an ideal, but I also understand that not one of us is living fully the ideal we preach. Each and every one of us struggles with some aspect of life that constitutes a thorn of mortality - and I am bothered more than I can explain that some people’s thorns are harder to soften than others.

I really struggle with this one. I do want to emphasize marriage and motherhood in a world that is devaluing them more and more. I don’t want to weaken the ideal, particularly as it is crumbling in many of the areas around me. I do want to encourage my daughters to be worthy to enter the temple - and to not delay marriage if they find someone with whom they want to spend eternity. I value the concept of eternal marriage above nearly all else in the Restored Gospel, and I want my daughters to experience what it is like to find true perfection (wholeness and completion as one united entity) in a marriage.

However, I want my daughters, first and foremost, to feel worthy and special and noble simply because they are daughters of God. I don’t want the importance of their mortal existence to be tied solely to marriage, and, while I realize that the Church’s full teachings don’t devalue single women, I also realize that single women and men live in the here and now - so they need praise and validation and worth and power and fulfillment to the highest extent possible in the here and now.

In the end, I believe it comes down to our actions - including our words, but more how actively we are willing to ensure that the voices of those whose lives don't reflect the full ideal we peach are heard - that their lives can be immersed and their opinions are valued in the Church. In many ways, it comes down to accepting their lives as legitimate lives (every bit as “right” for them as marriage is for the married) - and resisting the urge to impose the ideal individually as we still must teach it collectively.

I wish I had a better answer, but never-ending awareness is a start - along with never belittling the struggles of a single adult in a family-focused religion.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Charity Believeth All Things: Being Open-Minded

In my New Year's Resolution post last week, I included some thoughts from previous posts in my initial contemplation of the idea that charity believes all things - and I asked for input about how I might take that idea the rest of the month. As I have considered how to organize my thoughts, I have decided to start with two statements by Presidents of the LDS Church (Joseph Smith and Gordon B. Hinckley) and an excerpt from the Book of Mormon.

First, the very last thing Joseph Smith wrote in the 13th Article of Faith was:

If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Next, Gordon B. Hinckley said more than once, in echoing another famous statement by Joseph Smith, that Mormonism should encompass all good:

“To anybody who is not of this Church, I say we recognize all of the virtues and the good that you have. Bring it with you and see if we might add to it.” (Ensign, November 1996, p.48. - From a General Conference talk in October 1996)

Finally, the Book of Mormon includes the following wonderful statement and counsel in Moroni 7:13-14:

But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God. Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.

I believe the point of Paul's message that charity believeth all things is encapsulated in these statements - with the caveat that I'm certain he meant believeth all "correct/true/ennobling/virtuous, etc." things. I think that such a qualifier is both obvious and important, so I simply want to mention it in passing here to be explicit.

My main point tonight is the link between "charity" and the ability to "believe all things". The epiphany that hit me hard only now as I was typing and editing that last sentence is that the ability to be truly and fully open-minded is central to the ability to believe all things - since it is impossible to believe anything unless one is willing to consider it first. Likewise, the ability to grant that others might have something that can enlighten us - that we don't know everything and what we do know we don't know fully - is the heart of charity. Thus, the truly charitable are the people who are most likely to be open to being taught by those with whom others reactively disagree - since they are the ones most likely to seek for ways to understand without judgment and reflexive rejection.

I have never considered that perhaps ONLY charity believeth all things, but I really like the way my mind is being led.

Friday, October 8, 2010

In Short, I Can Trust the Spirit

1) I have had too many experiences with Priesthood blessings where I have addressed situations of which I knew nothing to doubt the reality of "the Spirit". I also have had moments of flashing insight (like tonight immediately following a blessing) that stopped me in my tracks - and ended up being spot-on. I just don't have a solid and clear understanding of what "the Spirit" is. I know it can lead me to say things that are spot-on with no foreknowledge of them, but that's about all I know.

2) I have no option other than to follow what I feel to be true - or at least as close to truth as I can get at any moment. I like the Moroni 7 standard, summarized in my own words as, "If it brings joy and leads you to real humility, it is of God; if not, not." I also like the Matthew 5 standard, again summarized in my own words as, "Develop the characteristics of godliness and someday you will be perfect (complete and whole and fully developed = finished)." If a feeling leads me toward what I think is that desired end, it's good enough for me.

In short, I can trust the Spirit - within the basic parameters I have constructed to distinguish it. Anything outside that framework, and I have to question - much like I believe Nephi did to his dying day about killing Laban. He believed and followed what he felt he was being led to do, but he had to construct a justification for it, nonetheless - since it was outside the normal limits of what he thought the Spirit would prompt him to do.

I've done things according to what I thought were promptings that ended up seeming to be failures.
I'm not certain if they were or weren't, but I've had enough other similar experiences that in hindsight appear to be obvious cases of inspiration that I figure I will keep doing whatever I feel prompted to do and let God allow for my mistakes of human weakness in the end. I believe in Him, and I believe in the Spirit, so I'll err on that side and let the chips fall where they may - understanding that I'm doing the best I can even while my own glass remains clouded and I still see through it darkly.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Living with Ambiguity as a Spiritual Process

"Living with ambiguity is a form of intellectual honesty, of humility. It is only when we admit that we don't know that we are receptive to what lessons may be taught. In some strange way, it also brings an inner peace since we are no longer fighting reality to maintain our inner fantasies on how things should be. While I am characterizing it as an intellectual process, it also has spiritual implications, since only an open mind is capable of hearing God."

- Andy Piereder

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Impact of Proper Leadership on Zion

“What’s the closest you’ve ever gotten to a Zion experience?”

1) My family, growing up - with wonderful parents;

2) Marching band and choir in high school - with wonderful teachers;

3) My current and most recent wards, on a larger scale - with two amazing bishops.

I don’t think the similarity is accidental.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spotlessness Can Be Next to Manslaughter

Some people need to let go of something in order to stay sane and not beat themselves up over unrealistic expectations. I'm fine with the tornado effect that is my house, since keeping it "tidy" with all the traffic that parades through it is nigh unto impossible.

Cleanliness might be next to godliness, but spotlessness can be next to manslaughter. I'll take clutter and general disarray over the alternative.

I simply have chosen those things that I really want to do - what I consider to be the most important uses of my time - and focused on making sure those things get done. Everything else is garnish, and I really don't like garnish all that much.

There is a Gospel lesson in this post, so . . . "They who have ears to hear, let them hear."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Charity Believeth All Things: A Few Connected Thoughts

My New Year's Resolution this month is to "believe more things" - taken, as has been the case all year, from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where it states:

Charity believeth all things.

As I contemplated this resolution, some connected yet autonomous thoughts that ran through my mind. Rather than write a typical post this week, to start off the month I want to record those thoughts and ask everyone who reads this post to offer your thoughts about my thoughts. I'm not sure exactly in what direction I want to take this particular resolution this month, so I would appreciate any help anyone wants to give.

1) I remembered a quote I cited earlier this spring in a post that deals with the idea of believing regardless of "truthfulness" - and I'm sure it will factor into how I approach this resolution:

"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".

2) I wrote the next thought almost exactly a year ago, and it also deals with the same general theme I am starting to develop as perhaps the core focus of this month's resolution:

“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 . . ."

3) I wrote the following just over two years ago:

A friend once said to me, "I see you as an academic believer." My response follows:

I like that term, since the primary emphasis is on being a "believer" rather than an "academic". I am inquisitive by nature; I try to see everything from every side and reach my own conclusions; I do so, however, from a foundation of faith - because I have found that it is such a foundation that brings me the most joy.

This means that I always try hard when I read or hear something for the first time to see if there is a way I can see "correctness" within it - even if that ends up being only a very small portion. Often, I end up rejecting 10%-90% of something - but my approach, I believe, allows me to gain something from most of the things to which I am exposed. That is true sometimes of things I have considered carefully previously - if the perspective is somewhat different than what I have considered previously.

I am not an "academic believer" if that means someone who only accepts what I can understand. (I would term that type of person to be a "believing academic".) I certainly am an "academic believer" if that means someone who tries to think about and understand everything but who, first and foremost, believes. My heart and experiences are bound rock-solidly to the Restored Gospel, but my mind is looking constantly for ways to understand it better.

I am leaning on tackling this month's resolution from the standpoint of the need for faith in world I see through my glass, darkly - but I would love to have input into the quotes above and any other thoughts about the idea of charity believing all things.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Communication Varies at Differing Levels in the Church

I believe the difference between ward and stake disciplinary councils is reflective of the role differences between the Bishop and Stake President. In other words, the Bishop's primary focus is much more on the individual (minister), and that makes him play a different role in most disciplinary councils than the Stake President, whose primary focus is on the organization (administrator).

Likewise, I believe this explains why most of the decisions that make waves are reached at the stake level (or higher) - because they are taken to "protect the organization" rather than to "help the transgressor". The opportunity to "help the transgressor repent" generally is confined to the ward level, while the responsibility to "protect the organization" generally is held by those above that level.

Fwiw, most of the truly angry and loudly condemnatory statements I have heard from those who have been excommunicated have come from those whose decisions were reached at the stake level or beyond, while I am aware of quite a few ward level decisions that didn't cause a stir at all - or were very positive experiences. That fascinates me.

On a more individual, non-disciplinary level, I agree completely with the need to "administer to the one". I believe in that fully. It struck me, however, as I was reading multiple threads here across the Bloggernacle that some people are upset that their own individual takes on certain practices aren’t being validated by their leaders - that uniformity of the group was overriding individual wishes. That actually is what got me started thinking about this post and its relation to disciplinary councils.

The most obvious examples for me are discussions about the Word of Wisdom (for example, where some members feel like they could handle moderation in some areas and feel like the communal prohibitions are not necessary for them - and, by extension, for many) and discussions of sexual practices (again, where the communal standards for all exclude a minority of members whose individual standards are outside of the communal standards), but I don’t want to narrow the discussion to only those topics. This post isn’t meant to be about any one topic; it’s more the meta perspective that struck me as I was reading about multiple topics.

I have thought for a long time that the central tension in the Church is about defining the line between community and individual, and I also have believed for a long time that there is a real difference between the type of focus that (I believe) must distinguish leadership at “lower” (local) and “upper” (area and global) level leadership. This post is the result of all of that percolating in my head.

One more thing:

I see a big difference in the kind of individualized messages we get in a ward setting, the slightly less individualized message in a stake setting and the much more universal messages we get in General Conference. At the ward level, there can be nuance and personally unique applications, but at the global level the messages can appear to be black and white directives that don’t allow for individual nuance - even when the speakers include multiple disclaimers. The tension inherent in many members who hear the globally standardized directive but not the disclaimers fascinates me.