Friday, September 30, 2011

Those Who Feel Betrayed By the LDS Church: An Analysis

I think one of the reasons some members feel betrayed by the Church is that they are either analytical by nature or emotional by nature - and they come to see the Church as the opposite.

Think about that a bit:

Someone who has developed a black and white view of Mormon history and finds that shattered by exposure to opposing and compelling accounts often reacts emotionally to that result - since black and white views tend to be more emotional than analytical. Such a person sees the Church as having been conniving and disingenuous - both of which, in that person's mind, are "analytical" attributes. So, an emotional person criticizes the Church for being analytical, if you will, and "hiding the truth" consciously and for purely selfish reasons.  The "truth" (whatever it is) doesn't matter in such a situation, since the reaction is predominantly emotional. 

Turn to someone who has a more nuanced, gray view. That is generally a result of being more analytical than emotional, and such a person often sees the Church as more subjective and emotional. This manifests itself in charges of hiding truth and covering up negative things (and even lying about stuff) consciously in order to feed the emotional attachment of the membership. The end result is a charge of anti-intellectualism - relying more on emotion than the intellect.  Again, the "truth" (whatever that is) doesn't matter in such a situation, since the the reaction is based on a perceptual difference. 

That happens all the time on various group blogs that are more critical than others, and it can be frustrating to see how blind most people are to that bias. My interactions over the years with certain people are a great example of this:

I drive them nuts, largely because I am both analytical and emotional - so it's hard for many people to categorize me and see "consistency" in my words. Especially with those who are emotional, they often see my analysis of their posts and comments initially as rejection or criticism - rather than simply as analysis.  On the other hand, those who are more analytical often try to read between the lines to find nuance and deeper meaning - and I try to avoid such nuance and hidden meaning when I am writing in a public forum.  Hence, those who are prone to nuance and analysis often misunderstand fairly simple statements by over-thinking things. 

The fascinating thing is that anlaytical and emotional people can reach the same overall conclusion, but each person attributes the motivation behind it to a different genesis - whatever is the opposite of their own personality.

It's a natural way to justify rejecting others, by classifying others as different than one's self.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Comfort and Growth Sometimes Are Mutually Exclusive

A good friend shared this quote with me:

"There's no growing in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growing zone."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Simply One of the Most Beautiful, Moving Blog Posts I've Ever Read

Through God's Eyes - (tiny mosquito)

The entire post is beautiful and profound, but the following struck me particularly hard: 

Brothers and sisters… We are all connected. Despite all our differences, despite our race, our religion, our beliefs… despite our status, education, or our income… and despite our sexual orientation, or our political affiliations… despite it all… we all belong to each another. We need not agree with one another… to love one another. We need not think alike… to love alike.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Don't Go to the Temple to Learn

I am contemplative by nature, and I've gone to the temple often enough that I know the ceremonial wording and actions pretty well. When I go now, I generally see what hits me as the play progresses and let my mind "wander" a bit to consider whatever hits me. In other words, I spend most of my time there "thinking" - as opposed to "listening" or "understanding".

Perhaps some would say I can do that anywhere, but I don't believe that - for two reasons:

1) It's hard to create a place that is as silent and reverent as the temple - where I can think and ponder without distraction.

2) It's hard to create a place that is as God-focused as the temple - that points my mind to the type of contemplation I do there.

It helps that I view it all symbolically and figuratively - so contemplation becomes the core purpose for me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Us Against Them" Is Bad Enough, but "Us Against Us" Is Worse

I loved being raised in Utah, but I would struggle a bit if I had to move back now.

ANY organization that becomes dominant and isolated tends toward totalitarianism. Power corrupts, even in the Church - as D&C 121 says very clearly. I believe strongly that the Church simply had to flee to the wilderness in order to survive the early years of the restoration, but I also feel just as strongly that part of the pruning of the vineyard described in Jacob 5 (the elimination of the bitter fruit) is the need to shed the bad effects of that isolation.

A minority population can express its uniqueness by juxtaposing that uniqueness against the majority culture. In other words, Mormons here in Missouri can "rebel" against the cultural norm by being Mormon. In Utah, however, Mormonism was the cultural norm for many decades (and still is in lots of areas) - so those who aren't comfortable following the cultural norm find expression for their "rebellion" by challenging that norm (in this case, Mormonism). The worst part, however, is that for years (and still in many areas) the only such "rebellion" possible was by Mormons (since there were or are almost no non-Mormons) - which means that the natural reaction of the "faithful majority" was to draw even tighter conditions around "conformity" and move more and more away from the "rebellion" they saw happening within the Church. This caused polarization - where suddenly "pure Mormonism" (which is incredibly moderate and tolerant and flexible, imo) began to be seen almost as "rebellion".

I generally don't like "us against them" views, but even worse is "us against us".
Isolated entrenchment under attack tends to do that, and for decades the Church was isolated and entrenched and under attack - perceived and in reality. Thankfully, the world-wide growth of the Church has begun to mitigate against that former movement, and I really believe we are beginning to swing back toward what I see as pure Mormonism.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Importance of Interpreting Offensive Statements As If We Had Said Them

None of us can avoid saying things occasionally in a way / wording that sounds different than we mean it. All of us are going to be misunderstood at some point, and it's going to happen to most of us over and over again - sometimes when we can find out about it and correct the misunderstanding, but often when we never realized we've been misunderstood and can't correct it.

Therefore, when I hear something that seems offensive at first, I try to see if there is a way to interpret what is being said so that it's not offensive - so there's something I can learn from it. Sometimes, what is said really is just offensive, but generally I can find a way to take something positive from it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Place Should Religious Activity Play In Your Life?

I'm a Church geek - a Church junkie, if you will.

I simply LOVE organized religion, generally, and the LDS Church, specifically - for the community of believers and the chance to serve an extended family. I can work out my own intellectual understanding of the doctrines outside the meetinghouse, but I can't walk away from the service I provide to and within the community. Therefore, at certain points in the past, I have attended 6-9 hours of meetings most Sundays - and my wife and I were fine with that. I was there to help and serve, not primarily to learn - so I was pleased and gratified when I did learn something. It wasn't expected or required, so it was wonderful when it happened.

Having said that, the ONLY "required" meeting each week is Sacrament Meeting - for the sacrament, primarily. Attend that meeting, and "The Church" officially considers you to be "active". (Your local ward or branch won't consider you fully active, but you will be considered active from the global church's statistical reporting perspective.) In fact, if you have a job that requires you work most Sundays, but you attend Sacrament Meeting as often as you can (and are known to be "faithful and/or believing"), you still probably will be considered "active" by your Bishop or Branch President.

What I'm saying is that there are many, many "levels of activity" possible within the LDS Church for someone who wants to be "active" but can't or doesn't want to attend every possible meeting. Two simple examples:

1) I have a family friend who was raised with the idea that to be active he had to be involved in EVERY SINGLE SCHEDULED ACTIVITY, and it's taken him years to see that it's ok to miss this and that when there's something else on his calendar that is more important (including when he wants to go out on a date with his wife).

2) My wife and I once considered Home Study Seminary for my second son, who is diabetic and tired easily, but we didn't pulled the trigger on that because he wanted to have that time with his church friends each day. It worked out in the end, but if his health had started to be compromised by Seminary, we would have found an alternative for him.

What place should religion and religious activity play in your life? I can't answer that for others, but for me it is vitally important but secondary to my individual pursuit of righteousness and the development of a godly character. It acts for me as a strong motivation in that pursuit, and it should be whatever works for others in their current situations. After all, there is a time and a season for all things under the sun - and that includes "level" of church activity.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Proving I Believe I Am Not Better than Others By Choosing to Interact with Them

In continuing to consider the idea that I am not better than others in the eyes of God, no matter my abilities in things unrelated to that eternal message, I have been drawn back to I Corinthians 13 - one of my favorite chapters in all of our canonized scriptures.  I have been drawn back to the fundamental principle of charity - and, more specifically, what it means in relation to not thinking of one's self as better than others in the eyes of God.

Tonight, I want to address how we can shake off the shackles that often bind us in regard to learning to understand, appreciate, value and, finally, love those we are not inclined naturally to see as equal in God's eyes. 

The most extreme example of this would be what Jesus addressed in the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:43-47 says:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?

This passage talks about loving, blessing and praying for enemies - and those aspects are quoted and discussed often in the Church. However, the part that is not quoted or discussed nearly as much is the part that tells us to "do good to them that hate you".

Loving, blessing and praying for are things that can be done alone, away from those in question - those who are enemies, those who curse you, those who hate you and those who misuse and persecute you. At least, this is true when these words are defined as feelings or emotions, as is the case often in our modern world.  Doing good to someone is different; it cannot be done alone. The command is not to do good FOR others; it is to do good TO others.  This involves action, and it must be done WITH those whom you would avoid naturally. In other words, you must interact with others to do good TO them.

This flies in the face of two other common statements:

Be in the world, but not of the world.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

The first quote (which, by the way, is not scriptural as quoted) generally is used as a justification to avoid sinners. My only point is that all of us are sinners, so this usage, in practical terms, is to avoid sinners who are different than we are. Obviously, this has particular application to those who curse, hate, spitefully use and persecute.

The second quote is perhaps one of the most misunderstood scriptures in the entire Bible. In its original usage, it does not mean to avoid anything that even looks like evil - that appears to be evil. Rather, it means something like the following:

Abstain from evil no matter its appearance - no matter how it looks.

I bring this up specifically because I have heard it used to justify all kinds of things that keep us from doing good to our enemies - and even to those who are nowhere near our enemies. The focus is not on avoiding anything that someone else might perceive to be bad, but rather to avoid that which truly is evil.

If I am a Home Teacher, and if one of the people I am supposed to visit and serve is only "available" when he is in a bar, should I go into that bar to visit him? If a woman is walking home in the pouring rain and I have the ability to help her, should I refuse to do so simply because someone might see me and jump to an incorrect conclusion? If someone has misused me in some way, should I refuse to interact further with him? (There are certain cases where my answer to this question is an uncompromising, "YES!!" - but people use it to often in cases where the "misuse" does not rise to the level of abuse that justifies avoidance or shunning.) Can I really be in the world and not at least "appear" sometimes to be "of" the world - doing good to my enemies if I never interact physically with them?

I believe that one of the primary reasons we refuse to interact with specific others is that (specifically, with those who have not harmed us is a manner that justifies avoidance), at the most fundamental level, is a lack of valuing them as equal to us - that we define others in such a way that we can justify not serving and loving them in a way that shows we truly believe they don't "deserve" to have good done unto them.  In some way, we place ourselves above them and see them as "worse" than we are.  (The other primary reason is a devaluation of ourselves to the point where we don't believe we have anything to offer - but that is a discussion for a different post.) 

In conclusion, I believe that if we are to internalize charity fully, at some point we must be willing to step out of our comfort zones and interact directly, in some way, with those who fight us, curse us, spitefully use us and persecute us. We can't become truly charitable in isolation, and we can't become truly charitable through only an intellectual understanding of it. At some point, we simply must LIVE it - despite the very real risks associated with doing so. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Should Mormons Marry Non-Mormons?

In any relationship or organization, all differences compound difficulties. One of the hardest parts of community ("unity of more than one person") is working out differences. With that foundation, every major difference that exists in a marriage compounds the potential for future difficulty - and religious difference is a major difference.

Can it be overcome? Absolutely. Is it easy? Absolutely not! (especially the stronger the beliefs and difference are) It is the #1 breaker of marriage I know for those whose religious beliefs differ in significant ways.

Having said that, the following are multiple sides of the issue:

1) Based on the most recent LDS divorce stats of which I am aware (and, to be totally honest, I have not researched this in over a year), the temple marriage divorce rate is about 6%-10% - the lowest rate of all religion-based rates in the US, by far. The divorce rate for LDS non-temple marriages (when both people are Mormon) is about 18%-21% - dead average for all Christian denominations. The divorce rate for an LDS/non-LDS marriage is about 41%. That's a HUGE difference, and it's the highest rate among all of the religion-based categories.

Basically, a Mormon who marries "outside the faith" is 4-7 times more likely to get divorced than someone who marries in the temple and over twice as likely as someone who marries another member outside the temple. That's significant, to put it mildly. Finally, a 41% divorce rate means a 59% non-divorce rate - but there is no indication of how many of those "successful" marriages only stay intact because the Mormon spouse gives up attending for the sake of the marriage. If you add those two aspects (divorce from the marriage AND divorce from the Church combined), my guess is that the actual "failure rate" (from a strictly religious activity standpoint) probably is as high as 70%. That's frightening.

2) My own "courtship" was not perfectly in line with the Church's general standard - on the other extreme. I never dated anyone other than my wife after she turned 16. I proposed to her (and she wore an actual engagement ring, with the wedding band in her room at home) before my mission - and before her senior year in high school. She was 17 at the time. We got married 6 weeks after I returned from my mission, a few days after she turned 20. We had all kinds of pressure from disbelieving friends and family to slow down and not make that commitment at that age. We understood the concerns as well as we could, and we understand them much better now that we have kids who are past those ages, but we were convinced we were doing what we were supposed to do - and we were right.

3) Inter-faith marriage, when both spouses have strong beliefs that differ, can be and usually is VERY hard, and it is something I believe should NEVER be done with the idea that "s/he will convert after our marriage". That belief leads to actions that lead to pressure that leads to hard feelings that lead to divorce, in my opinion. If you really love someone, you love them not only for who they might become but also for who they are - regardless of who they might become.

4) Having said all that, in the end, I also believe that if two people truly can become one in this life, God will not split them up in the hereafter - since "joining the Church" is not the ultimate goal, and since we symbolically seal them regardless of their denominational affiliation in mortality. Becoming one with each other and with God is the ultimate goal - and that happens outside the LDS Church and outside Christianity all the time. It's just much harder when religious beliefs differ.

Summary: I have no answers for individual circumstances, but, as a general rule, I believe strongly that it is MUCH easier to make a marriage work when foundational religious beliefs are shared. If they aren't, based on real statistics, it becomes a total crap shoot. Some win; at least as many lose.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

When Divorce Is the Best Option

[I need to emphasize right at the beginning of this post that what I am about to say is subject to being over-ridden by personal revelation and is not meant to be conclusive in every situation - even though I am going to write in more absolute terms than normal for this blog.] 

Encouraging divorce is a difficult subject, especially in a society where "irreconcilable differences" is used as a common justification and means, in many cases, nothing more than "we stopped trying and drifted apart". Active, systematic abuse, however, adds an element that changes the entire discussion, in my opinion - even (and, I believe, especially) in the case of temple sealings.

The tendency to stay in a "less abusive" relationship that truly still is patently abusive because "he wants to change" and "I still love her" (or "for the kids") is a bad tendency, as bluntly as I can put it. To me, "desire" doesn't cut it in cases where abuse has been a real and serious problem. In those cases, actions and actions alone are key. He can say he's trying to change until he's blue in the face; what matters is if he actually is changing. If she still is extremely emotionally abusive and/or physically/sexually abusive over an extended period of time, she's not changing enough to warrant staying together.

As an example, albeit in a situation where marital divorce wasn't the issue, I once counseled a family in which some adult children were living with their elderly mother. All were emotionally and verbally abused by their father/husband before he died. It was a terrible situation, and I told them in no uncertain terms that they needed at least to consider the option of splitting up and healing individually before trying to live together again. Frankly, I didn't think they would be able to heal while they were together - and that feeling was most intense while I was praying about them and their situation. There just was too much accumulated baggage at the time when they were interacting with each other - baggage that exacerbated or perhaps even created real emotional disabilities. Counseling was needed desperately, but even that was compounded by the years of learned and assimilated behavior triggered by their constant proximity.

Again, this is a difficult topic to address adequately, especially in our current culture of general permissiveness and lack of accountability, but I believe it is important to be able to allow for those situations where divorce really is the best option. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Gay Mormons: Mourning With Those Who Have Cause to Mourn

What I Wish I Had Said - Kristine (By Common Consent) 

This post is one of my favorites on the topic of homosexuality and the LDS Church, since it is not "attacking" or "defending" the Church itself in any way.  It is teaching an ideal for which we can strive whether our policies and doctrines change or not.  The comment thread is deeply thought-provoking (both excellent AND terrible, in spots) - and I think it's worth reading, since there are some very thoughtful comments and discussions from people with different perspectives. 

I do NOT want to imply anything in linking this post other than what I have said above and will say below.  PLEASE, no NOT try to "read between the lines" in any way.  My intention is straightforward and direct:

We truly need to mourn with those who mourn, and homosexual members who try to live the Law of Chastity as it relates to them (differently than it is applied to heterosexual members, in important and fundamental ways) truly are among those who have reason to mourn the most in our church.  We need to get to know them intimately, just as closely as we get to know our straight friends - and we need to try to understand them and their lives much more clearly than we tend to do.  We need to be involved with them just as we would with any other members or non-members, regardless of sexual orientation.  If some are living lives of rampant promiscuity, and if I generally avoid those living lives of rampant promiscuity, I have no problem avoiding them.  If others are living lives of celibacy or monogamy and fidelity, and if I don't avoid heterosexuals living such lives, I should not avoid them.  If I embrace heterosexual friends physically, I should embrace homosexual friends physically.  They have cause to mourn greatly largely because we fail to live the second great commandment in regard to them - more so than with others whom we see as "different" in important ways. 

I have been dismayed by some of the comments I have read recently in the Bloggernacle regarding this general topic, so I wanted to provide a link to the post I feel best expresses my reaction to those comments. 

I think we also need to understand and accept why the VAST majority of people who are born gay in the Church leave without automatically chalking it up to just the fact that they are gay (that they have "strayed").  If we truly loved them exactly as we love the members who are straight, I believe the result would be very different - even if nothing changed doctrinally at all.  Many would stay, and those who leave would do so without the same degree of bitterness, isolation and rejection many feel currently. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

When Moral Issues Become Political Issues: Abortion as an Example

I wrote the following post over three years ago for Mormon Matters, and I ran across it again yesterday.  It is much longer than what I normally post here on my personal blog and deals with politics and morality in a way that I usually avoid here, but I decided to post it here regardless.  I hope that decision was inspired in some way and helps someone, somehow.  
The proliferation of posts in the Bloggernacle dealing with same-sex marriage after the CA Supreme Court decision prompted me to make the following comment here on Mormon Matters:

Once a moral issue enters the political arena, it no longer is just a moral issue. It becomes a political issue, subject to different forces and obligations and stresses and interpretations ad infinitum than when it was “just” a moral issue. This is not the thread for it, but abortion is a perfect example of this. How I feel about it as a strictly “personal moral issue” varies radically from how I feel about it as a political, legal issue.
That’s the core reason why the Church can and should comment on moral issues while not attempting to dictate political action.

This post fleshes out that foundational claim - that once a moral issue enters the political arena, it is OK for Mormons to vote differently than they might preach from a strictly "moral" standpoint. The central example I will use to make this point in this post is abortion.

My moral stance on abortion is, unsurprisingly, that of the Church: Abortion is not murder, but it is a serious action that should be undertaken ONLY in specific situations - like rape or incest, when the mother's life is in danger, or when the fetus cannot survive birth - and that it should not be automatic even in these situations. (Abortion: LDS Newsroom) When abortion enters the political arena, however, my stance changes radically.

The same statement in the Church's website Newsroom also includes the following statement, which rarely is quoted in these discussions:

The Church has not favored or opposed legislative proposals or public demonstrations concerning abortion.

Here is why I think this is so:

I) As a political issue, there are three options:

1) Always prohibit abortions = not consistent with the Church's moral stance;
2) Always allow abortions = not consistent with the Church's moral stance;
3) Allow some and prohibit others = can be consistent with the Church's moral stance.

It would appear that I should support #3 as the basis for legislation. I don't. I support #2, for the following reasons:

1) Exceptions must be decided through compromise among differing beliefs. Most people who accept exceptions would support abortion in situations where the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, but many don't. I think most would support exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but many don't. Less support a doctor's determination that the fetus won't survive birth, since there is an element of subjectivity in some cases. Compromise that does not include the exceptions the Church allows would be in direct violation of my own moral code - forcing birth in situations where I believe the parents (including my wife and I) should be able to choose abortion, if necessary in their situation.

I can't support that.

2) It would be fairly easy for a doctor who is committed to abortion as an option for all to over-estimate the danger to the mother's life if an abortion was desired. In order to address this potential conflict, the courts would be required to assign a second doctor to verify the initial diagnosis, but this doctor would be just as likely to be opposed to abortion as an option. If so, the verification might be withheld for many women whose decisions I would support otherwise.

I can't support that.

3) The most tricky situation legally is in cases of rape.

A) For abortions in these cases to be allowed, there would have to be a charge made of rape.
B) Any charge would necessitate an investigation.
C) An investigation would require the possibility of a trial.
D) Typical investigations and trials cannot be undertaken and completed in nine months - especially in cases that might boil down to "she said/he said". In reality, these cases actually would have a "prosecutorial window" of only about 4-6 months - since the pregnancy might not be known until the second month and would need to be terminated prior to the third trimester in order to avoid late-term abortions that would never receive legal support.
E) In these situations, to be a viable option, an abortion would have to be possible before the completion of any legal action to determine the validity of the claim.
F) Rape cases are difficult to prove, but under this "exception" construct, abortions should not be allowed for spurious accusations.
G) Therefore, these cases would need to be expedited to reach a conviction that would justify the abortion occurring.
H) The cases that should not be rushed, EVER, are explicitly those that are the most difficult to prove. Such a focus makes it less likely that the charge will be substantiated, meaning that legitimate cases have a greatly reduced chance of being proven - meaning that the perpetrator has a GREATLY ENHANCED chance of being acquitted.
I) If abortions are granted on the basis of the accusation, in order to address the nearly impossible task of convicting within 3-4 months of the charge being made, the courts would need to be willing to punish women who make spurious claims in order to have that abortion. Otherwise, a charge of rape would become the automatic action of any woman desiring an abortion, effectively legislating the allowance of abortion in any situation.
J) The near impossibility of determining guilt in some cases, even when the accusation is valid, would mean that many women would be punished for having to make the case in a shortened time frame - for making a claim that is difficult to prove in an expedited time frame.
K) The possibility of being prosecuted for making a valid but unprovable accusation would have the practical effect of scaring many women away from making such an accusation, thus effectively legislating option #1 for many in the guise of #3.

I can't support that.

Given that I can't support outlawing all abortions, and that I can't support outlawing all abortions with the exceptions of rape, health of the mother and viability of the baby, all that is left for me is to leave the decision in the hands of the individual mother (and father, where applicable) and let them deal with the moral consequences of their decisions.

Morally, I am opposed to abortion, but I allow for exceptions; politically, I oppose legislation that restricts abortion in any way that would not address the issues I articulated here. I have yet to see a proposal which I can support.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

There is Nothing Noble in False Modesty or Self-Deprecation

In thinking about my New Year's Resolution for this month (to "recognize more fully that I am not better than others"), I batted around multiple ideas for this weekend's post.  In the end, I found a post I wrote almost exactly a year-and-a-half ago.  I am re-posting it, with some parenthetical modifications to fit what I have been thinking about for the past week - but I am copying a comment by Molly on that post, since I think it is profound.

In Screwtape Letters, Screwtape says true humility is not a pretty woman trying to believe she is ugly or a clever man smart (some sexism here, but I give him a pass for when it was written and that he was a bachelor for so long). True humility is building the best cathedral in the world and knowing it is the best, and rejoicing in that fact the same as if someone else had built it.

With that introduction:
The fundamental point of my resolutions posts this month has been that charity is measured largely by how one views one's own abilities and knowledge - but, more precisely, that "vaunting" one's self and being "puffed up" are manifestations of one's view of one's self relative to others. In summary, the lack of charity in the manifestation of vaunting one's self and being puffed up is measured by how one raises himself above others - how one views her own abilities and/or knowledge in relation to others - and, again, more precisely, how one must devalue another's abilities and/or knowledge in order to value one's own more than is "correct".

(This applies exactly to the idea of recognizing that, at the most basic level, in the eyes of God, I am not any better than others.

The following, I believe, is self-evident, but I still believe it needs to be said:

It is very easy when thinking of this juxtaposition to conclude that self-confidence stands in opposition to charity - that if one is aware of and admits to a difference in the abilities and knowledge among people, and if part of that awareness and admission is that one's ability and/or understanding is greater than another's, then one is not being charitable. However, this stands in direct opposition to both common sense and one of the central themes of scripture and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, the key is not a recognition of differences in ability and understanding, but rather it is not allowing that recognition to lead to condescension and condemnation.

(This also applies to members of the LDS Church directly, as it is very easy and "natural" to equate understanding of "The Restored Gospel" and membership in "the only true and living church" with being "better than others".

In case anyone is tempted to dispute the title of this post, simply stop and realize that the parable of the talents explicitly ends in the Lord rewarding those who recognized their abilities to multiply what they were given - and in the Lord taking what he had given from the one who feared his Lord and did not magnify what he had been given. It rarely is phrased this way, but the two who were rewarded had the ability, understanding and self-confidence necessary to do what they knew the Lord desired of them; he who was not rewarded lacked the ability and understanding to do so - perhaps due directly to a lack of self-confidence, manifested in fear.

(I listened to someone speak in Sacrament Meeting recently and cringed inwardly when she said feelings of self-confidence were not of God - that "self-esteem" was a damnable philosophy of men that breeds pride and arrogance and distances us from our Father in Heaven.  First, I don't believe that, at all - and, second, it is guaranteed to be misunderstood and hurtful to many who hear it.

There is nothing wrong with me admitting and openly stating that I have been blessed with a natural ability to understand mathematical concepts - or to see how various pieces of a puzzle fit together (both physical puzzles and conceptual puzzles) - or to find joy in simple things - or to see the good in others. Those are personal strengths, and it would be dishonest or disingenuous to state otherwise - and, at the very least, I would be naive and misguided to think that all share those strengths equally. It is not the recognition of my own strengths that constitutes being puffed up and vaunting of myself; it is the over-valuing and/or over-estimation of my own strengths and the under-valuing and/or under-estimation of others' strengths on which Paul focuses in I Corinthians 13.

Part of the message of the Sermon on the Mount, on which I focused for two years, is the challenge to put conscious effort into understanding those characteristics that comprise completion, wholeness and full development - and to pursue acquiring them in order to glorify God. That entire process requires a level of confidence - and confidence is another way to phrase faith and hope. Of course, ultimate confidence in this process is pointed toward God, but one of the uniquely empowering aspects of Mormonism is the addition of an element of confidence in our own status as children of God - confidence that humans really are "worthy" of "the grace that so fully he proffers us" (based simply on our shared heritage of sons and daughters of divinity, not based on "individual worth" as distinguished from others' worth).

There is nothing noble, in my opinion, in false modesty or self-deprecation. Those things are not the same as meekness and humility. The former are facades; the latter are internal characteristics. The former are deceptive; the latter simply are descriptive. In that light, I believe it is much better to offer a simple, sincere "Thank you" when complimented than to deflect honest expressions with canned phrases that reject the sincerity of others' words - thus devaluing their praise. False modesty, as a way to avoid openly vaunting one's self, only masks the puffiness that exists hidden inside and is, therefore, hypocrisy.

Postscript: I have felt the need to add one "disclaimer" - and it is an important one, I believe:

There is a fine line between proper and realistic self-confidence and reckless self-confidence. The latter (recklessness) often appears in the religious as a belief that the Lord will not let anything bad happen to you - that you can do anything without concern for the potential consequences - that you deserve to have good things happen to you and that nothing is an un-necessary risk.

(The proliferation of multi-level marketing and bankruptcy in Utah points to this too common tendency to equate "perceived righteousness" with "being favored of God in ALL things" - and it is a reflection of twisted pride, imo.) 

There is realistically being aware of one's strengths AND weaknesses, and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to one's weaknesses - and there is being aware of one's strengths and blind to others' weaknesses (which is a weakness, in and of itself). I am not advocating blind and/or all-encompassing confidence in this post. Even Ammon gloried "in the Lord" - and humans have a tendency to think the Lord will help them get whatever THEY want, rather than what HE wants to accomplish through them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reflections on the Anniversay of the World Trade Center Bombing

The anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing is in two days, but, since it is on a Sunday this year, I won't be writing a post on that actual day.  As I thought about the event and how I experienced it personally, I remember being blown away by one particular song that was written about it shortly thereafter.  Most of you probably have heard it and are familiar with it, but I want to post a link to it and make one short point following the link. 

"Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning" - Alan Jackson

There are two ways to react when a tragic event occurs, especially when you feel attacked in some way.  First, as was expressed in other songs about the day when our world stopped turning, is anger and the desire for revenge.  Second, however, is an introspective look at our own lives and how "on track" they are.  It isn't easy to love those who persecute us, but it is a commandment - and, in order to fulfill that particular commandment, we simply MUST remember and believe that all of us really are children of the same God. 

This Sunday, may we remember just that - and may we ponder what we can do to love, in actual word AND deed, those whom we are not inclined naturally to love. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Forks and Spoons in Our Lives: Truly a Thought-Provoking Post

The following post is profound in and of itself, but the comments add some really amazing insights into the courses our lives take. Please read the post and the comments.

Life comes with forks, not spoons - Nat Kelly (Feminist Mormon Housewives)

I am highlighting one comment, in particular here, but it is not the only great one - or even "the best", necessarily.

"Corktree" said in comment #16:

I could have chosen to go to medical school despite having already started my family (not intentionally), and be in a very different position than I am today. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have really changed the destination of my life. I agree with David, most of our decisions in life are spoons. It makes me think about how we habitually pray about each decision as though God is micromanaging our lives. I think, if the decision is a spoon, it matters not which side we lean toward. Both will curve toward a mutual ending. Maybe God cares which of the experiences gets us there, but I don’t think one is right or wrong. Few decisions are truly forks if you’re looking far enough down the road. But, of course, only God has an aerial view, so it makes sense to get confirmation of how vital a decision really is.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"As God Is, Man May Become" Is a BIBLICAL Concept

Personally, I think 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 about this topic long ago 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 (since they are so numerous as to be over-whelming):

1) It is clear that the Bible teaches we are created in the image of God.

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." (I believe the ultimate statement of this is the Intercessory Prayer recorded in the Gospel of John.) In the Book of Mormon version, when Jesus appears to the Nephites, he makes it even clearer that this is a final state of progression, by adding 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 omnipresent 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's "Believing Christ") 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.

One more thing: I personally have no problem questioning / putting on a shelf / not accepting right now the first part of the oft-quoted couplet - that as man is God once was. I know Joseph taught it in one sermon, and I know others extrapolated on it, but there is only one small verse in the Bible from which it is intuited - and Joseph himself attributed the idea to that verse. Pres. Hinckley said in his TV interview years ago that we don't "teach or emphasize" it anymore.  If it ends up being wrong and going the way of other speculation, I'm fine with that. If it ends up being right, I will tip my hat and be fine with it.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monday, September 5, 2011

Most Christians Would Reject Jesus as Christ if He Lived Now

Personally, I think we are missing the years before Jesus' ministry in the Bible to keep us from using them to deny his divinity. I think, generally, the divorce of his mortality from his divinity has done more to attack how Jesus really was (divine AND mortal) than perhaps anything else, and since Christianity generally already has denied his mortality in all practical ways, a record of his early years would complete the process by being used to deny his divinity.

I believe if we saw his entire life, most people would see him as just another guy - exactly as the people did in his own country who saw him growing up and couldn't accept him as the Messiah. I believe the only "perfect" (whole, complete, fully developed) picture of him includes a God as actual man, but admitting the "man" would destroy the conception of "God" held throughout "mainstream" Christianity.

People nit-pick prophets.  Can you imagine how we would nit-pick someone who claimed to be the Savior and Redeemer of mankind if we were able to see his childhood, adolescence and all other pre-ministry aspects of his life? I firmly believe most Christians would reject Jesus if he lived now the life I believe he lived then, since their conception of the Savior and Redeemer of the world doesn't match the man I believe he was - and, to be fair, I think that's true of more than a few LDS members, as well, in some ways. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

I Am Not Better than Others: The Difference between Talents and Worth

My New Year's Resolution for his month is to, "Recognize more fully that I am not better than others."  It is taken from Alma 5:54, which reads:

Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another?

My first thought was that this is a truly appropriate resolution for me this month, given the events of last month I described somewhat in my resolutions post throughout the month.  It's interesting that these two resolutions would be back-to-back, since a good old-fashioned beating with regard to not setting one's heart upon the things of the world leads quite naturally into a recognition that I am not better than others in my ability to avoid such beat-downs.  Life throws sucker punches at all of us, in one way or another, on a regular basis - so, in that regard, God does let the rain fall on all equally.

However, I need to look for deeper meaning in this month's resolution than just what I learned last month - especially since I really, really don't want to have to repeat the lessons of last month.  LOL

What struck me as I prepared to embark on this journey is that there is a HUGE difference between being better than others when it comes to certain talents and strengths and being better than someone in what really matters - eternal worth and potential in the eyes of God.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have had to make this distinction in my own mind largely because I do have certain strengths that make me better AT some things than many other people are in those things.  There is nothing wrong, imo, with recognizing one's strengths - and even recognizing that one is better AT something than someone else is at that same thing.  The key, I believe, is not a denial of comparative strength, but rather a balanced emphasis on the comparison where one is better than another and on the comparison where one is not as good as another.  It's understanding that all of us have strengths and weaknesses and that, ultimately, we all are equal in the eyes of God.

To be specific in practical ways:

I sing better than many people - and not as well as others.  I understand math intuitively better than many people - and not as well as others.  I see nuance and implication and potential outcomes better than many people - and not as well as others.  I am able to keep a prayer in my heart more easily than many people - but I struggle with formal prayer more than many others.  I am a very good public speaker - but I am not as good a private listener.  I could go on and on, but the point is that I need to be able to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, even in comparison to others, without allowing that recognition to cause classic pride that makes me feel like I am better than another intrinsically - that I am of more worth eternally than someone else.

I am planning on addressing more practical aspects of this in future posts this month, but I wanted to start with the foundational idea that I am a child of God - and so is everyone else in this world.  I am special and unique - just like everyone else in this world.  I can praise God for the talents he has given me (which is completely different than the Parable of the Talents, btw - just saying - *grin*), but I cannot develop an attitude of arrogance that is manifested in "praising Him" for making me "better than those poor people" who lack the specific talents for which I am grateful. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Symbolism: Helpers in the Temple - and After Death

I view pretty much everything in the temple as symbolic. It's much more powerful and meaningful for me that way.

I think the symbolism of the "helper" in the temple is important and profound - and far too rarely considered as a powerful symbol. I've never worried one bit about remembering anything when I die, since even someone with severe dementia could go through the temple successfully as long as they could repeat what someone was whispering in their ear. (I know that's not the purpose of the temple, and it's not the practice in the temple, but I use it strictly to illustrate a narrow point.) I LOVE that aspect of the temple.

Since I think it's all symbolic anyway, and since I believe if any of it is literal we either will have perfect recall or someone standing next to us to help us, I don't fret about memorizing anything in the slightest. I have memorized most of the presentation, at least to the extent that I can anticipate the wording and know what's coming, but it's not something I put any conscious effort into doing. I am free to attend, try to open my mind to inspiration and simply "be" - in the presence of God.