Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's Not Their Church. It's Mine. (with corrected link)

Why I Still Belong to the LDS Church - Sliver Rain (The Rains Came Down)

Apparently, the link I included originally didn't link to the actual post. It is fixed now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

I have come to believe that God "heals" more often than He "cures".

My second son received an interesting baby blessing. He was born 19 days early, but there were no apparent issues with his health. He left the hospital in a normal time frame, and nobody was concerned at all for him. 

In his blessing, he was told that none of the physical trials that he would experience in life would have the power to derail him from the mission Heavenly Father had appointed to him. It surprised me when I said it, and it surprised my wife enough that she wrote it in her journal.

Fast forward 20 years:

This son has severe allergies; none of our other five do. This son's appendix burst (after leaking for about a week) when he was 11 - almost killing him. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, the only person in my extended family of whom I'm aware with that particular condition. Our kids and their friends have a mock bet about which organ will fail next.

My point? This kid has incredibly strong faith. It really is amazing to see. Especially because of his baby blessing (and subsequent blessings as he has been sick), he knows God knows of him personally, and his faith in other things is very strong. However, neither his appendix nor his pancreas was "cured".

Due to this and other experiences, I tend to look at the word "heal" and see all its possible meanings. Here is a typical list:

1. To restore to health or soundness; cure.
2. To set right; repair: "healed the rift between us".
3. To restore (a person) to spiritual wholeness.
v. (to be healed) To become whole and sound; return to health.

The definition most people think of when they read "healed" is "cured". The one I choose to accept in this context is "be made whole". My son isn't "whole" physically, but he is about as "whole" in the greater sense as it is possible to be at his age - and I attribute that largely to the strength and nature of his faith - aided by the recollection of God's love for him that was proven through the spoken blessings he has received in his life.

I have come to believe that God reaches down and takes an active hand in "curing" us more often than many believe, but I also have come to believe that He "heals" more often than He "cures".

Saturday, May 28, 2011

To Walk the Path that Opens Before Me

As I come to the end of this month's New Year's Resolution to be more humble and less proud, I want to wrap it up with a short commentary that will be a bit more vague than normal - but as personal as pretty much anything I write.  It deals with my life right now and something I have understood through experiences previously but am relearning now.

There have been times in my life when cirucumstances have combined to make me prouder of myself than I should have been - not in the proper way that Pres. Uchtdorf highlighted recently, but in the uncharitable way that is the focus of so many scriptural verses.  Generally speaking, my own life has followed the classic scriptural cycle associated with pride: Periods of pride, followed by forced humility.  There are elements of my life currently that represent that cycle - and it has come into stark relief as I have focused on how to conclude my resolution this month. 

Therefore, as a result of this introspection, I have only one commitment that has come at the close of this month:

No matter what the Lord has in store for me in the future - whether it is what I naturally want or not, I will accept it and do the best I can to make the most I can of it.  I will do my best to forge the path I desire, but I will accept and walk any path that I feel is being directed by God. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seeing God in the Mirror: Part 2

Somehow, the post I wrote last night got deleted and there was a weird combination of posts and titles when I logged in this morning.  The following is something I wrote nearly three years ago, and it felt right to re-post it this morning in place of what I lost from last night.  I hope it helps someone, somehow:

I was struck by something the other day that I have been considering ever since. It is not profound, but the combination of a very common scripture (and then one more) and the effort to understand and become more pure in heart has put something into a little different perspective for me.

The Book of Mormon includes the following statement from Alma, the High Priest, to Korihor, the professed atheist :
"The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." (Alma 30:44)

Alma lays out both a scientific and mathematical argument in this verse - speaking of the complexity of the creation and its intricate, "regular" operation as proof that God exists. In essence, he says:

"This could not be without a God to make it be."

This seems simple to many people - that the creation itself, seen as encompassing all of which we are aware, testifies of a Supreme Creator. They think:

"How is it not self-apparent to all? Why can some people look around - or even study the intricacies of molecular biology and string theory and quantum physics and other astounding modern discoveries - and not see that it simply can't be the result of random mutation from an origin that still is unfathomable to scientists? Why can these people not understand this, even when many of them are very good, moral people? We haven't even scratched the surface of it all, and yet some can't recognize it as a sign of a creator. WHY?"
"For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father."

What struck me is that there is an element of "they shall see God" in one's ability to recognize the hand of God in His creations, but that ability is contingent on "yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit" - to having a heart purified by that Holy Spirit. What just hit me this instant, and is changing how this post evolves as I type, is that it is relatively easy - with even a small and comparatively weak connection to the Spirit - to see the grandeur of the universal creation and be humbled into a recognition of God in that creation.

It is more difficult to rise above the natural man and see God in His most inspiring creation - His children.

From both a religious and evolutionary perspective, we are the height of creation - but we also carry within us its depth. We are both god and devil in very practical terms, and, while it is easy for nearly everyone to see the fallen man (the chasm that separates us from God), it is very hard for many to recognize the embryonic god-child within that fallen man (the tie that will be bound in heaven). It is easy to see the caterpillar, but it is very difficult to see the butterfly within that caterpillar when it still is a caterpillar.

One of the most amazing things that happens when our hearts are purified by the power of the Holy Ghost is that, to some degree or another, we glimpse the inner butterflies around us while they still are limited by their caterpillar exteriors - and, in glimpsing those butterflies, we suddenly, in a very real and powerful way, begin to see God.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Obedience Vs. Agency: A Central Gospel Paradox

My Rebellious Heart - Tracy M (By Common Consent)

The discussion thread is fascinating, as well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Balance in Organizational Administration

My ideal Bishopric or Stake Presidency (or any presidency) would be a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent - a BIC, a convert and someone who had been inactive for a stretch - someone with grown kids, someone with young kids and someone with no kids - etc. I believe the best decisions are the ones that include multiple perspectives - and multiple perspectives can't exist in a monolithic organization where all the "minority members" are either silent or gone.

Those who view things differently than the majority are needed desperately in the Church, and those in the majority need to value the differing views - not just tolerate them.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ministry Sometimes Is Silence

We come over, and sit - Aaron (By Common Consent)

The comments are enlightening, as well.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Misinterpreting the Parables of Jesus

I've heard some really wacky "hidden messages" from the parables in my life, and they generally have been presented as Truth - you know, for those who "get it". Given the extremes, I tend to limit the interpreting I do of parables to the obvious stuff. I don't look for hidden meanings; I parse what actually is written.

In a nutshell, here's why:

Jesus was teaching mostly common folk, and he was using images from their lives that they would understand. I don't accept that he was "hiding" anything; I just think people who didn't (and don't) understand the image he used tend(ed) to look for ways to interpret them in ways that often aren't consistent with the intended meaning. They get twisted, for example, by urbanites who don't know crap about farming - or modernites who've never used an oil lamp with a wick that needs trimming, in an era when it was impractical to carry excess oil around on your person. The story makes absolute sense to someone who has used such a lamp in such a situation (like a hike, where every ounce you carry is planned carefully).

Saturday, May 21, 2011

To Be More Humble: The Danger of Being Absolutely Certain

As I considered the idea of becoming a little more humble and a little less proud this week, I thought back on other things I have contemplated and about which I have written over the last few years.  I want to focus today on something I believe strongly - that we often focus so much on knowledge and knowing that we devalue what, in a way, is the pure heart of humility.  Sometimes we focus so much on knowing that we forget about the real power and, I believe, enduring need for faith. 

“Faith” is not “knowledge”. It is the substance of things “hoped for” - the evidence of things “not seen”. Faith is based on “hope” - a desire for something that cannot be seen or understood fully. “Certainty” is the perceived end of faith - the desired outcome most people envision. It is to be sure of something to such a degree that it is expressed most often in terms of knowledge. “I know this” and “I am certain of this” are seen generally as saying the same thing, especially within religious communities.

One exercises faith when one is uncertain; one does NOT exercise faith when one is certain. When someone is absolutely certain, he stops seeking greater understanding.  Such a condition leads the person who is certain to stop exercising faith, since she believes there is nothing with regard to that particular concept she doesn't "see" - that she has sufficient "evidence" to be certain and not need "further light and knowledge".  If even a prophet (Paul) could write that he saw "through a glass, darkly" . . .

I get more than a little bit frustrated by the insistence that everyone can know everything, since even our own sciptures say that some have the gift to know while others have the gift to believe those who know. (I think there is another category of people - those who never feel like they know and can't believe those who believe they know.  I admire DEEPLY those who find themselves in that situation and still manage to exercise faith [hope in what they can't see] despite their inability to actively believe.)  My biggest concern is the idea that faith and uncertainty cannot co-exist - that if I am uncertain of something, then I lack faith. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of faith.

I would posit that we all must, by definition, exercise faith until we are certain - and then hold onto that previous faith again if we lose certainty. Since none of us can be certain about everything imaginable, every one of us needs faith in something all our lives. I believe each of us can be certain of some things, but I also believe we can be certain of many things and still be incorrect - at least partially.  If we are certain of everything, I believe we either are ignorant or delusional. If we never reach an acceptable level of certainty, then we need to accept a life of searching ("seeking after these things") - following whatever principles and people and politics and religion we feel provide us with the highest degree of certainty we can obtain OR the particular vision in which we want to have faith.

Finally, there were at least two times when I think it is safe to say that Jesus struggled mightily - because He didn’t understand and didn't want to accept something. (In the Garden, where He asked if the cup could be taken from Him and on the cross when he cried out and asked why His Father had forsaken Him.) In these cases, he seems to have been uncertain about some aspect of the Atonement and had to exercise faith: specifically, that He would be able to do it and then that He would be able to do it alone at the very end.

If the Savior and Redeemer of the world didn't understand some things right up until the end of his life - if even he had to exercise faith in at least two instances, I believe it is important for each of us to accept that we also need to accept uncertainty and not assume our visions and views and beliefs are objective truth that need no more light and knowledge. 

I think nearly everyone would agree with that, in theory, but there are SO many times when we forget it in reality - when we allow ourselves to be proud and miss amazing opportunities for spiritual growth and enlightenment by being absolutely certain.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Faith Must Be My Own - or I am Left to be Acted Upon

My baseline stance has been and ever will be that I can construct a sound argument both for and against almost anything. (That's the whole point of debate, btw - to force people to construct sound arguments for BOTH sides of an issue.) Therefore, it is up to me to weigh both the evidence AND the implications and construct whatever argument rings truest for me - whichever argument resonates with my own soul. I can't palm that off on anyone else, and I can't blame anyone else if I am unhappy with the result.

I can act (construct my own personal view) or be acted upon (allow someone else's view to be mine). If I don't do it myself, however, I will be tossed to and fro - since I probably will encounter an even more articulate argument than my current one - then a more articulate argument than that one - then a more articulate argument than that one - ad infinitum. Until I build my own, personal faith (or, more accurately, take responsibility for my own, personal faith), I am at the mercy of others - a puppet on strings that can change hands at a moment's notice. I literally am not my own master - and, therefore, I can't turn control of my life over to the One whom I believe is qualified to be my Master.

I believe what I believe and see things the way I see things for one, simple reason: I have chosen and continue to choose to do so. I looked at the end result of all the options I could envision and chose the one that resonated the most with my own soul. I tweak the details constantly as I am exposed to others' perspectives that enlighten my own, but the core foundation doesn't change - since I built it carefully and consciously and intentionally. It belongs to me; it's what I "know" for myself; it's mine.

I live spiritually where I choose to live
- and I love my house.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Becoming Like God is a Biblical Teaching, Not a Mormon Heresy

Personally, I believe the doctrine of becoming like God is one of the central tenets of the Bible. It is taught in one way or another over and over and over again there - in both the Old and New Testaments. It is my absolute favorite teaching of the Restored Gospel - and, ironically, it is one of the core ties we have to many Eastern religions.

I wrote a fairly long paper at one point for a divinity school class, but here is the bare-bones, stripped down, bullet-point version - to the best of my memory, and not taking the time to quote actual scriptural verses:

1) It is clear that the Bible teaches we are created in the image of God. That is so widely accepted to be a given, although many have interpreted it in varying ways to make it non-literal.

2) It is clear that the Bible teaches that we are to become like God. In the OT, this generally is phrased as follows: "Be __________, because God is __________." The direct line reasoning is that we are to develop a certain characteristic specifically because God has that characteristic. The penultimate statement of this is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus laid out traits that make us "blessed" and then says, "Be ye therefore (by the pattern laid out in the previous verses) perfect (complete, whole, fully developed), even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." In the Book of Mormon version, he makes it even clearer that this is a final state of progression, but he adds himself to the injunction.

3) The NT takes the OT admonitions and actually adds a stated reward. The joint-heir change to the inheritance custom - the "see him as he is, for we shall be like him" - the "one as we are one" - etc. all provide context for the command.

Interestingly, the Book of Mormon says exactly nothing about becoming like God, except in 3 Nephi. I think this is for two primary reasons:

1) The basic teaching is almost omni-present in the Bible, and Mormon and Moroni made it perfectly clear that one of the core purposes of their record was to inspire those who would "believe this" (the Book of Mormon) to "believe that" (the Bible). (Note: It's not to believe IN the Bible, but to actually believe what it says. - hat tip to Robinson) If the concept of becoming like God is central to the Bible, it wouldn't be necessary in the Book of Mormon abridgment to "waste space" detailing it.

2) If it were taught in the Book of Mormon, it would be much easier for non-Mormon Christians to dismiss it as a uniquely Mormon heresy. They still can reject it as such, but the fact that it's not taught in the Book of Mormon means they are rejecting the Bible, not the Book of Mormon, when they reject the concept.

Summary: I see the concept of becoming like God to be a core Christian doctrine - in fact, THE core Christian doctrine of the Bible. I see the rejection of it as THE core abomination of the Great Apostasy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Understanding Others Must Be Personal

If I really want to understand fully anyone who is different than I am in any way, that understanding can't be merely academic or philosophical or theological. It must be personal. I don't have to experience their actual lives, but I do have to experience their actual selves.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

To Be Less Proud: The Danger of Over-Applying Fore-Ordination

I want to make and discuss one simple point this weekend, as I have been contemplating being less proud this month.  It relates directly to a long conversation I had once with a friend about pride.  It is this:

Pride has nothing fundamentally to do with one's strengths, weaknesses, material possessions, social status, or any other "objective", measurable criterion.  Pride is an attitude - an internal outlook.  The weak, poor, uneducated, lowly, incapable, etc. person can be just as proud as the strong, wealthy, educated, prominent, capable person.

Pride is not a recognition of one's strengths.  Rather, it is a valuing of one's self over the value placed on another - a view that I am better than someone else intrinsically.  ("vaunting" one's self above others)  It is not understanding that I am better "at" something than someone else; it is a belief that I, as a person, am better "than" someone else - that my strengths make me a more valuable person than someone who is not as strong as I am in those areas.  It is a focus on elevating myself over others - and it is every bit as prevalent in the religious as in the irreligious, unfortunately. 

My biggest concern in this regard is that members of the Church too often accept the natural tendency to adopt the philosophy of "the Prosperity Gospel" at the individual level and too often make value judgments based on financial success, career paths, callings in the Church, etc.  Most members I know don't do so consciously, but there is a current coursing through much of the Chosen People rhetoric that carries a constant temptation to succumb to the notion that God chose us for a reason - and that reason must be because of some inherent "betterness". 

Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the way that too many members assume that those who are born in the covenant or who convert at some point from another religion or denomination were foreordained in the pre-existence to do so - the extrapolation of passages in Alma and Abraham, for example, to all within the Church.  The flip side of this coin is the unstated assumption that those who are not born in the covenant or who do not convert are not foreordained to that - that they are not deserving of it for some reason.I don't know for sure about such things, but I am concerned about the subtle, pride-inducing justifications underlying such extrapolations. 

Those same justifications were used to explain the Priesthood ban before it was lifted, and Elder McConkie's admonition to "forget everything we have ever said about it" with regard to the judtifications for the ban has a place, I believe, for consideration when we view how close our statements about special valiancy in the pre-existence are to those justifications we have been told to forget with regard to race and the Priesthood.   

I'm NOT rejecting the concept of foreordination - not at all.  I do believe in it - to some degree and for some people.  However, it's a fine line between foreordination and predestination, and it's a fine line between foreordination and arrogance - but it's not a fine line between a theology that offers salvation and the opportunity of exaltation to all and one that posits special status for some based on pre-existent "betterness" that elevates them above others in an important way. 

That is pride, plain and simple, and it's something of which we need to be aware and which we need to fight in all its manifestations. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Translated Technically Includes Transmitted

“We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly.”

"Translated" technically includes ALL transmissions involved in creating a final product, so scriptural translation includes at least the following:

1) The transmission of inspiration / revelation from God to the initial hearer.

(Since there are multiple "filters" that can come into play in that process, what someone "hears" or "senses" often is not what the speaker "meant".)

2) The transmission of inspiration / revelation from the hearer's mind to the page.

(Since many scriptural accounts are recorded long after the receipt of the original inspiration / revelation, what someone hears or senses often is not totally consistent with what that person originally heard or sensed.)

3) The transmission of the writer's intent and understanding from one language to another

(Even intra-language translations can be problematic, as in the case of many Biblical translations into "easier to understand" language. Further, since something often is translated into one language from another language [German to Japanese for the Bible, for example] before being translated by someone else within that same language, this transmission process can add error repeatedly - and a translator / scribe can change words within the same language - e.g., the Joseph Smith Translation, in theory, is no different than the numerous modern translations used within the rest of Christianity.)

4) The gap between when something occurs or first is expounded and when it is recorded

The longer period of time that passes from when the original account occurs to when it is recorded, the more exponentially difficult (and, really, impossible) the transmission becomes to complete correctly - especially when the literalness or figurative nature of the story is lost over time, leaving those who finally record it to guess as to its originally intended purpose.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Warning: This Is a Purely Speculative Post on a Highly Controversial Topic

Russell M. Nelson said in his spring 2002 General Conference address, How Firm Our Foundation:

"Gender disorientation is poorly understood."

When discussing the topic of gender and sexual orientation, I focus on one thing first - the mathematics. We all know, hopefully, that biological sex is not determined at the moment of conception, but rather that it happens through the process of gestation. We have NO IDEA when the spirit enters the body; the prophets have been very clear about that. Therefore, even if spirits are male and female, we have no idea whatsoever when they enter the forming fetus.

So, assuming for a moment that spirits are male and female just to stay solidly within the bounds of current Mormon doctrine, what are the mathematical chances that there end up being the exact same number of male and female spirits as there are male and female mortal bodies? Why would it be against our theology in any way to say that there MIGHT be some male spirits in female bodies and female spirits in male bodies? Perhaps they enter the body prior to formal, biological sexual "assignment"; perhaps there simply is an imbalance when all is said and done and some "mixing" must occur for all spirits to be born into mortal bodies; perhaps any number of other explanations exist. My point is that there is no concrete reason of which I can think that every male spirit MUST enter a male mortal body or every female spirit MUST enter a female mortal body.

Actually, if we allow for that simple possibility, much (if not all) of our difficulty in dealing with homosexuality and inter-sex issues would disappear. As I've said elsewhere, taking mortal sexuality out of the eternal equation (leaving gender/sex alone, but removing all things dealing with actual sexual intercourse and its related activities) would open up all kinds of possibilities in the hereafter - and it would remove instantly much of our repulsion toward and problems with polygamy, as well.

I'm NOT saying this is the "right" outlook or "true". I have no clue, really, if there will be a "sexual" component to the afterlife. I personally doubt it, and there is nothing in our canon that insists there will be, but I don't know. What I'm saying is that much if not all of our angst and confusion and difficulty would vanish if we held to "gender/sex" as an eternal characteristic but let go of "sexual activity" as an eternal characteristic - and that is totally consistent with a reasonable parsing of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". 

Elder Nelson was 100% right in his 2002 talk: This is one area where there is little concrete understanding - a MUCH more complicated topic than most people realize and accept. Therefore, I am open to lots of possibilities that would help us reconcile these things without having to lose the core framework of our theology - and I believe there are multiple ways to do so that fit solidly within the broad spectrum of Mormonism, even if we still can't reach certainty in our conclusions.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When Symbols Become More Problematic Than Positive

I have no problem with changing symbolism in the temple, because what differing cultures and generations take out of symbols changes. 

For example, there was a time when ANY member who received the endowment LITERALLY risked life and limb in doing so. They truly were threatened with death for not revealing what occurred in the temple, so the punishments made total sense. It wasn't, "We will kill you in these gruesome ways if you reveal this," but rather, "You must be willing to die in these gruesome ways" - which, again, was a real possibility at the beginning of the Church's existence. As that reality changed, and members stopped being threatened generally in that way, I am glad the symbolic actions were deleted. They no longer rang true AS SYMBOLS, so they lost their symbolic meaning - and actually started being misunderstood.

Washings and annointings are the same: In a day and age where it was no big deal to strip naked and be washed fully as a symbol, such practices made sense; as that became more and more uncomfortable, eliminating the nudity and altering the ordinance to our more recent practice still could hold the power of the symbol without the reticence and discomfort that would have accompanied the former practice; as our society has become almost obsessed with "improper touching", it's only natural to change the specific practice again to continue the underlying symbolism.

Finally, the elimination of the Protestant minister role in the endowment also makes total sense when it is viewed in relation to the opposition that was being faced previously and the changing world in which we now live. What made perfect sense in the former society simply doesn't ring true symbolically any more for many members - and once the tipping point has been reached and a symbol starts being more problematic than positive, it's time to change or eliminate it. (Besides, do you really want to go back to the Nauvoo endowment - the one that lasted all day? I thought not. *grin*)

One of the best things I was told when dealing with symbols is to contemplate the "what" (What is being taught by the symbol?) and the "why" (Why is this particular symbol effective or problematic?). That has helped tremendously in accepting the changes in the temple symbolism I have seen in my lifetime and those that happened before I started attending.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Rare Sunday Post: Finding My Own "I am" Amid the Struggles of Life

I wrote something yesterday to a friend who is struggling with some things - especially the paradox between wanting to be fed at church and the desire to help feed others when he isn't feeling fed himself.

I normally don't write Sunday posts, but the thought came to me that I should post what I wrote to my friend - and that I should do so today. I hope that was a legitimate prompting - that it helps someone, somehow who might not have read it if I had posted it on a different day.

Here it is, edited slightly to be appropriate for a public forum:
I think you are struggling with one of the central paradoxes of the Gospel that Jesus of Nazareth preached - that to find one's self, what someone thinks of as "self" has to be lost first.

Most people never understand that paradox fully in this life, and I am one of those most people when it comes to understanding it "fully" - but I've been unable to "find my own true self" by attending Church for so long that I gave up trying a long, long time ago. Instead, I focused in church on helping others find themselves.

Yes, my personality lends itself to that, but my experiences also helped me understand a little better how wonderful it can be to lose myself within a group. 

I want to share a story here that might or might not help, but it came to me as I read your message, so I hope it is inspiration.

Long story short, I had finished most of 11th Grade math by the time I left 7th Grade, but my rural junior and senior high schools had no idea what to do with someone in that situation - so I repeated 3 1/2 years of math until my class reached in 11th Grade where I had been individually in 7th Grade. One of the reasons I came to accept and appreciate that situation is that in 8th Grade I had a math teacher who couldn't teach. He knew the math, but he just wasn't a good teacher.

I had two choices: pout or teach. 

I chose to teach - and I found my life's love of teaching. I did about four weeks' worth of homework in one night, then, when the teacher finished introducing the material to the class and went back to his office, I got up, actually taught the concept in a way that the other students could understand and walked around the class helping individuals with the problems that were stumping them. I was, in practical terms, the teacher of that class. I literally, in a very real and powerful way, came to understand the joy and wonder that can occur when we put aside what we want individually (what we deserve and what "should" happen) and focus on helping others who aren't where we are get to where we are - or to where we are going. 

I understand individual personalities and that it was easier for me "naturally" to have that outcome than it would have been for others - but . . . 

Looking back on that year, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I learned something important about myself and what I perceive to be an important principle - and what I want to focus on for the purpose of this conversation is that I learned it through an experience that absolutely sucked in every objective way imaginable (for lack of a more genteel way to say it). It shouldn't have happened; the educators in those schools should have been more aware of me and my needs and done SOMETHING to help me; they had a professional commission and duty to do so; they shouldn't have "kicked me off of" the educational track I was on when I arrived; they failed miserably in fulfilling that commission. 

I'm so glad they did. In fact, I think I'll be grateful eternally that they did. 

I'm not saying that such an experience is right for everyone, and I'm not saying it's OK for people to screw up big time in the performance of their responsibilities, and I'm not saying anyone else should (or could) have had my own experience in that situation - but I am saying there is a power in many Gospel paradoxes that is impossible to grasp until we're involved in a searing, unfair, difficult struggle that forces us to weigh competing ideals and discover there often is a balance hidden somewhere in the struggle - a balance that is personal and individual and intimate and enlightening in our own efforts to find our own "I am".

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Be More Humble and Less Proud"

My New Year's Resolution for this month is to "be more humble and less proud".  I have focused on humility in a previous month's resolution, and as I contemplated how to begin with this month's resolution, I decided to go back through my archives and re-read what I wrote in other posts about humility. 

It was an interesting experience to see the insights I had as I went through this exercise the first time, what things I have retained and what things I have "forgotten" as I have focused on other godly characteristics.  If nothing else, it has re-emphasized to me the importance of repeating some very basic things over time - and not letting myself think that I have mastered something even this fundamental. 

I want to excerpt in this initial post some of the things that jumped out at me as I reviewed those previous posts:

I find it fascinating that the end of Matthew 5, where it admonishes us to not revile, comes full circle back to the beginning admontion to be poor in spirit. Truly, life and progression is one eternal round.

This passage (Matthew 7:21-23) also is the ultimate definition of "taking the Lord's name in vain". This describes those people who claim to be representing the Lord but not doing what His Father wants them to do. "Vain" means "arrogantly and/or without effect". Therefore, those who use His name in order to justify their actions when those actions are not what God wants them to do are guilty of both definitions above - arrogance and ineffectiveness. 
Using the Lord's name without effect (like the non-thinking, reflexive, blasphemous usage that is SO common even among those who profess to be Christian) is bad enough. Doing so to justify improper actions is even worse. 
The important point to make is that NOBODY is immune from this temptation or tendency - except for those who follow the admonition earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:33-37) to "swear not at all, but let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." In that context, nothing should be done "in thy name" except for sacred ordinances that require such attribution (e.g., "baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." [Matthew 28:19]) and prophetic statements that truly do express His will ("Thus saith the Lord.").
My understanding of the multiple statements in the Sermon on the Mount regarding claiming to speak and act for the Lord makes me very wary of doing so outside the parameters set in the these passages. I believe that it is important to be careful to give credit where credit is due and avoid arrogance, but also not to begin to claim reflexively to represent Him in all we do - thus embracing the opposite manifestation of the arrogance that occurs when we fail to credit him.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

My dad was ecstatic to leave high school and formal education; he worked as a milkman, a type-setter handling hot lead that left his hands rough and calloused, a farm worker between jobs, etc. He retired after 20 years as an elementary school janitor.
He’s one of the most intelligent people I have met in my life, based on the D&C definition. He’s also perhaps the most selfless, humble man I know. I think there's a direct correlation, perhaps even a causation, between humility and spiritual intelligence.

I have found perhaps the truest measure of humility is how someone handles attempts at correction - BOTH correct and incorrect attempts at correction.

I think of pride as the inability to accept criticism as a chance for introspection. I think the truly humble hear criticism (no matter the content and context) and think, “Is that correct?” I think the truly proud hear criticism (no matter the content and context) and think, “Shove it, jerk!” I think most of us vacillate somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, often depending on how much we like and respect the person who is offering the criticism.
I think the truest test of humility is how we react to criticism from those we don’t like or respect - and I certainly need to work on that.

I would aprpeciate reactions to any or all of these quotes.   

Friday, May 6, 2011

Within the Church, Be the Change You Desire

When I lived in the Deep South, invariably a black investigator would join the Church, face intense pressure from family and friends for joining a "white church", stay active for about 3-6 months then fade into inactivity - sometimes citing the fact that no other black people were joining the Church. Just as invariably, about 3-6 months later another black investigator would be baptized - and the cycle would repeat exactly.

After a few years, if those black members would have stayed active, there would have been a thriving black membership in the Church in that area.

I'm NOT blaming them for leaving. I mean that sincerely. I actually understand how difficult it is to remain active in an organization when you feel like a token member - especially when you feel like the others in the organization don't really understand you. For many reasons, I get that completely. Furthermore, there still is residual racism in some members of the Church, and that is more than regrettable; it is shameful.

All I'm saying is that when someone leaves they automatically contribute to the stereotyped self-fulfilling prophecy against which they complain. They also reinforce, unfortunately, the stereotyped view of those who are unlike them - that black members, or liberal members, or gay members, or feminist members ad infinitum never make life-long members.

Being a pioneer or Christlike rebel is hard, but leaving only exacerbates the problem at both ends. "Be the change you desire" is great advice, as long as that desire doesn't include bitterness and harsh confrontation and self-righteousness. It's a tricky balance sometimes, and it requires serious humility and meekness, but it's worth it in the end for those who can do it.

[Postscript: I am not saying in this post that nobody ever should leave the LDS Church. I understand there are situations from which some people should flee - situations that are toxic and harmful. I also understand, for example, that it is brutally hard to be a homosexual member of the LDS Church. I believe in the principle about which I wrote in this post, but I also believe there are exceptions to every rule.] 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Being Sinless Does Not Have to Mean Being Mistake Free

At the most basic level, when something is "transgressed" it simply means that a rule or law has been broken.

There can be "active transgression" (the one who causes the rule or law to be broken); there can be "passive transgression" (someone who is involved in the breaking of a rule or law but not responsible for breaking it); there can be "ignorant transgression" (breaking a rule due to not understanding it); there can be "intentional transgression" (knowing a rule and breaking it anyway). Of these categories, generally speaking, only those that are done intentionally and in violation of one's understanding are viewed as "sins" that require direct, personal punishment. All others (the passive and the ignorant) are believed to be covered by the Atonement of Jesus. (I tend to use James' definition of "sin" in the Bible that requires knowledge and/or understanding.)

For example, a rapist is an active transgressor, but s/he also can be either an ignorant transgressor (think of a ruler who has been taught since childhood that sex is his right and refusal is not an option, living in a society that reinforces that assumption) or an intentional transgressor (the VAST majority of cases in our day and age). I understand the theft analogy that some use when discussing rape, but I don't think ANYTHING has been stolen in a rape, since I don't agree that a victim of rape has "lost her virtue". A victim of rape is still every bit as "pure" and "chaste" and "virtuous" after the rape as she was before it, specifically because she is not held accountable for what happened.

I think Jesus definitely "transgressed" while He was growing up, IF that is focused narrowly on "ignorant transgressions" - and perhaps breaking a lower law to fulfill a higher law (like ignoring his parents to stay in Jerusalem and teach in the temple or picking corn to eat on the Sabbath). The Bible says he grew from grace to grace and in favor WITH GOD and man. That means he was progressively "more favorable" with God than he had been previously - probably as he learned of and accepted his divine role and "put away the natural man". Sure, that's speculation to some degree, but I think it's grounded in very clear scriptural statements.

That actually is the heart of this post - that there are things that occur in our lives that "technically" violate commands that will not be accrued to our "debt" simply because we didn't choose them or weren't aware of them. They are part of the package we inherited by "keeping our first estate" / being descendants of the Fall - and our job is to improve our character and multiply our talents (pursue perfection [wholeness, completion, full development]), NOT get bogged down with guilt and obsess over our "natural (wo)man" faults. Those have been redeemed already through the Atonement as part and parcel of The Fall, so our responsibility is to work to eradicate them by acquiring the characteristics of godliness that will replace them - making mistakes and transgressing along the way and repenting when we actually sin - modeling in our own flawed way Jesus' own sinless example of growing from grace to grace and in favor with God and man. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Book of Mormon Is Not Our Version of the Inerrant Bible

We can believe Nephi and the Lord both and not believe that every word in the Book of Mormon is objective. It can be "the most correct book on earth" without being inerrant and God's pure word. There's a HUGE difference between "objective" and "true" (and "translated correctly") - especially when Nephi himself says he made it "according to my own knowledge" (1 Nephi 1:3), and Moroni said he wrote "according to my memory" (Ether 5:1).

When it comes to the Book of Mormon, I believe it really is a literal record of a real people. I just don't believe it is God's very own words written by man - and none of the writers claimed that either. In other words, I don't believe it is the Mormon version of the evangelical, inerrant Bible. In fact, there are multiple pleas to overlook the mistakes in it as a result of the weakness of the authors and their inability to say it perfectly. (See Ether 12:23, where Moroni says that the Gentiles will mock because the Lord did NOT make them mighty in writing, but actually made them weak in writing.)

Insisting that the Book of Mormon is objective truth and the voice of God recorded in print is holding it to a standard that the authors themselves would reject.