Monday, October 31, 2011

There Is Something Outside of Myself That Understands and Knows

I have had a handful of experiences that can be explained rationally in no way except that the heavens were opened to me and I saw or sensed or spoke prophetically of the future or of things unknown to me - very directly and explicitly, not vaguely like a fortune teller. I'm not saying they prove the existence of God, and I'm not saying they are "visionary" in the way that most members would interpret that word - just that they proved to me that there is something outside of myself that understands and knows more than we do in the moment.

One was an amazing experience while blessing our second son as an infant (giving him a name and a blessing) that is so obvious that my oldest son now refers to it as our own Star of Bethlehem - something shining brightly as a sign that God's great work was being accomplished - something to which we can look and which we can remember as we make our own life's journeys. There was absolutely no rational reason for me to say what I said in his blessing, and I had no intention of doing so when I opened my mouth, but what I said was spot-on and prophetic of the life he has lived in the last 21 years - and uniquely so.

I have a gift in that regard that manifests itself occasionally, and there really is no way to explain it rationally. I can't control it, and there are plenty of times when I offer blessings or advice when I wish it would show up and not make me do my best all on my own. I don't understand it (really, almost at all), but it's real in a very objective way.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

I'm Sick, So Here Is a Top 10 List (kind of) that I Hope Will Make You Laugh

1. Nothing "normal" is worse than that moment during an argument when you realize you're wrong.
2. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
3. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I'm pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
4. Bad decisions make good stories. 

5. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren't going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
6. I'm always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report to which I swear I did not make any changes.
7. I keep some people's phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
8. I wish Google Maps had an "Avoid Ghetto" routing option.
9. Sometimes I'll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is. 

10. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey - but everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Church's Flaws Make It True

A friend of mine wrote the following a while ago, and I want to comment about it here:

For me, the whole process of becoming aware of the imperfections and human frailties in the operations of the church (historically etc.) has been a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. It has helped me remove some of my pride, become somewhat less judgmental, hopefully a little more forgiving, focus more fully on love and the essentials of what Jesus taught. For me, becoming aware of the humanity has helped me progress out of a spiritual plateau that I didn’t know I was in (yes, first by crashing down but that is another topic).

If the purpose of the church is to help us progress spiritually - to help us grow personally, I can’t think of anyway that I could improve on its current composition to help it fulfill that goal (at least for me personally) more effectively than it is currently doing for me.

One big step was realizing that in learning to forgive all men (D&C 64:10 - not condone but forgive) I needed to forgive those in the Church who came before me for any mistakes they may have made.

It is the resistance we encounter that makes us stronger – wherever it may exist.

I want to add only that we sometimes lose sight of how radically different the stated goal of Mormonism is than any other Christian religion. (Buddhism's ultimate objective is similar, but that's another topic.) We talk of a literal and extensive conversion of character - of becoming fully something we now are only partially. Compared to the more "mundane" goal of mainstream Christianity, we really are radicals and extreme liberals theologically. I think that's important to recognize and admit openly - that we have a radically liberal theology, taught within a generally conservative organizational structure (mixed with quite liberal elements, like a lay local leadership).

The things that bother me most about the Church are the more mundane aspects of organization and the interpersonal conflicts that inevitably arise when people with different perspectives interact and strive for unity. The things that inspire me the most are the visionary aspects that still blow my mind on a regular basis - the fact that such flawed people still could articulate such a mind-blowing theology and cosmic paradigm. It reminds me of the founding of the United States in some ways - some really flawed people who couldn't live the ideals they wrote (e.g., in theory "all men are created equal" [except in practice for slaves, who only count as part of a man for census calculations - and the women, who aren't even mentioned directly]) but who still created something great and incredibly liberating.

I'm not sure if I would phrase it like my friend did when he sent the message ("The Church's Flaws Make It True") - but I absolutely would say that the Church's flaws make it real and powerful. Maybe, in the end, that is the same thing as "true and living" - perhaps defined as "not artificial and able to grow". In the end, I still define "true" as "pointed in the correct direction" (like "true north") - and, since no other major religion (other than Buddhism) of which I am aware posits what we posit as the ultimate objective and purpose of life, I feel fine using the word "true" in that sense.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How I View the Garment of the Holy Priesthood

I have no illusions whatsoever about the garment being "magical" in some way. I see the "protection" promise as spiritual, not physical. They are powerfully symbolic to me, however, and I absolutely love the concepts of:

1) Being reminded constantly of the covenants I have made - the basic ones of the temple that I think are important and powerful. When I am wearing it, I hardly think about it. It is subconscious in practical terms. However, when I put it on and take it off, I am reminded tangibly of what I am striving to become. That's important to me, so I wear it as a token of my own personal commitment to God - not as some kind of requirement.

2) Being clothed in the Priesthood power of God - and that concept applies to all men AND women who have been endowed. Women who are endowed in the temple carry with them actual symbols of godly power and covenants, and I personally think that is important in the Church - that women literally have the symbols of the Priesthood in a tangible form even though they can't exercise that in the administration of ordinances. To me, there is great power in that symbolism - perhaps even more so for women than for men in our current culture.

3) Progressing toward godliness and entering into the presence of God. That is the symbolic center of the temple for me - that I have the right to approach God and be in God's presence - that I ALWAYS am clothed properly to enter the Bridegroom's feast and commune with them. Even if I didn't find other deep meaning in the temple, I would continue to attend simply to participate in that specific symbolism.

I'm not saying everyone should see these things as I do - not at all. However, I caution people to not throw out the available symbols and their potential power when those things can be used for tremendous enlightenment if only adapted slightly for each individual. I wouldn't think seriously about not wearing the garment right now, because I have a way for it to help me personally. Even if someone else thinks "it's just underwear", to me it isn't "underwear" at all. It is a sacred symbol, and that is important to me.

BTW, as a follow-up to the last sentences, I personally am not opposed at all to the idea of wearing the garment OVER regular underwear - even though I know that is not the Church's default standard. I think that would remove much of the "weirdness" for many people - as it then would be seen as "clothing" without the automatic, negative association with "underwear".

Monday, October 24, 2011

We are not just a church with prophets; we are meant to be a prophetic church.

Joseph Smith once said:

No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. If any man has the testimony of Jesus he has the spirit of prophecy.

We are not just a church with prophets; we are a prophetic church. At least, we are meant to be, and I think we ARE much more than many people realize - but much less than I believe we can be and hope we will be.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Keeping Zion from Emerging: Classifications Among Us

As I thought this week about my New Year's Resolution this month, one verse from the Book of Mormon jumped into my mind - and, as I have contemplated just how to write about it for this post, it has struck me more forcefully than ever before how comprehensive and concise it is.  As I prepare to wrap up my pondering this month about how I am not better than others to God, I want to begin that wrap up by quoting that verse - and asking anyone who reads this post to consider how it applies to their own life and what s/he can do to make it apply more universally, if in no other way initially than more comprehensively in their own mind. 

The verse is 4 Nephi 1:17, and it describes what Zion truly is in practical terms:

There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

I do not believe that Zion is a situation where everyone is exactly the same in all ways.  That picture scares me more than the traditional lake of fire, frankly.  It is the elimination of individuality in all ways that matter - which is exactly opposite of the idea of perfection taught in the Sermon on the Mount.  (completeness, wholeness, full development)  The verse does not say that these people were "one"; rather, it says they were "in one".  That is an intriguing phrase, and it gets overlooked almost always. 

As everyone knows who knows me even moderately well, I absolutely LOVE Elder Wirthlin's analogy of the orchestra - where all instruments are valued and unite to create truly "perfect" music, together in full and comprehensive harmony not playing the exact same melody.  Solos can be beautiful, but they pale in comparison to complex and intricate arrangements of harmonic grandeur. 

To me, the idea of there being no "-ites" among us simply means that we don't create divisive classifications among us - that we don't focus on our "otherness" but rather on our "unitedness".  In other words, our differences continue to exist, but, rather than defining how we are separate from others, those differences are used to enhance our unity - to make that unity more "perfect" - more "complete, whole, fully developed".  There are piccolos and banjos and bagpipes and kazoos - but there are no competing groups trying to drown out the different "-ites".  In this situation, differing individuals become "in one" - part of a "oneness" IN which they constitute a critical element. 

That, to me, is Zion - and that is what I have experienced almost fully on at least two occasions in the wards I have attended.  It is a mortal achievement of an "at-one-ment" that is awesome and inspiring and empowering and simply stunning.  It truly is a marvelous work and a wonder, and it is what I want for my family - my immediate mortal family and my expansive, immortal family, as well. 

May we work to ensure that, someday, there will be no -ites among us - and may we have faith and hope that it may happen much sooner and more fully than we naturally could imagine. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

We Need to Stop Asking Our Prophets to Be What They Never Have Been

"It would be wonderful and SO SO much easier if I believed President Monson was a "True Prophet", one that talked to God face to face continuously - not just got revelation - I mean really speaks directly to him day by day. Unfortunately the more I think about it the more I find I can not accept it."

The quote above was something a friend of mine said a while ago. My response is below:

The above definition fits NOBODY within our canon - not even Jesus. On the other hand, our scriptures and our modern history give us a pretty clear picture of very unique, different, flawed, "normal" people who filled a role as "prophets" - a role that actually varies in focus and responsibility over time. Some were administrators (Peter, Aaron, Brigham); some were visionary leaders (Abraham, Moses, Lehi, Jesus, Joseph); some were military men (Samson, Joshua, Moroni, Mormon); some were missionaries (Paul, the sons of Mosiah); some were caretakers in some way (all of them from Jarom up to Mosiah, many in the OT, most of them from John Taylor to David O. McKay); some were . . . controversial . . . to say the least (Samson, Jonah, Paul, Brigham);etc.

There are serious issues that have to be confronted when we stop hanging onto infallibility for our prophets and apostles, but I believe we simply MUST stop asking our prophets to be what prophets never have been.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Sustain and Support" vs. "Obey"

If I am convinced God does not want me to do something, especially if I have received a personal answer of some kind, I won’t do it – no matter what mortal tells me to do it. I still will “sustain and support” my church leaders in their callings, even if I can’t do exactly what I’m asked or counseled to do, but that wording does not say “obey regardless”.

D&C 121 is crystal clear about demanding obedience simply because of one’s position of authority, “as they suppose” – and I’ve never believed we will be blessed for knowingly doing wrong. I just can’t accept that we will be blessed for sinning, and since “sin” generally is defined partially as “knowing right and doing wrong” – I don’t buy the argument that we should obey any leader unquestioningly if they tell us to do something we believe to be wrong.

Having said that, I’ve thought and prayed about counsel I’ve been given with which I disagreed, and I’ve changed my mind as a result more than once. I also have accepted and followed counsel I believed to be poor counsel but not morally wrong in many instances when I have offered my own counsel and the leader reached a different conclusion. That’s just life in a community / organization of any kind.

I don’t believe in reflexive dismissal, and I agree totally with Elder Oaks’ characterization in his talk during General Conference last year in which he said that reflexive disregard for commandments and counsel due to a feeling that one is an exception to rules does not originate from God. At the very least, I would say such disregard is born of pride.

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Thing I Know: Journeying Within the LDS Church

Objectively, I know very little when it comes to religious things. I just don't. I'm a reasonably intelligent guy, so I can justify intellectually just about anything I want to justify - and I can do it in a way that is logical and somewhat compelling. What I "know" is that it's up to me to construct a paradigm in which I can grow and progress to the best of my ability - that I can't let anyone else dictate what that paradigm looks like.

When I say, "I know," I always mean "for myself" - "according to my understanding". I really like the way Nephi phrases that concept, so I borrow from it. "My experiences have taught me personally" is how I define "I know" in this context - so I'm fine in saying things like "I know the Gospel is true" and even "I know the Church is true" - since I define "true" as "on target" (true flight of an arrow) or "pointed in the right direction" (true north) or "sincere" (true love). I have found a way for the Church to be an instrument (a vehicle) in my life, and I have found a way to accept the messiness and infallibility and ambiguity as unavoidable (and sometimes even personally ennobling), so I honestly don't worry much about it from a cosmic standpoint.

Also, I've spent decades studying and viewing other denominations and religions, and I simply haven't found a single alternative that inspires me at the highest level like Mormonism does. I believe we continue to struggle with the effects of centuries of doctrinal bastardization that haven't been pruned fully from our own tree, but I "know" I don't want to construct my personal paradigm anywhere else. It would be MUCH easier in MANY other religions and denominations, but I know I personally wouldn't be lifted and inspired and motivated to grow and "become" like I am in the Church.

So, in summary, what I am left with in the end is nothing more profound or deep than:

I know I want to make my journey within the LDS Church.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today I Lost My Faith in Humanity

As I considered my New Year's Resolution this week (framing it in my mind this week as "to understand more fully that I am no better in the eyes of God than anyone else"), I thought of the parable of the Good Samaritan - and I suddenly remembered something I had written on Times & Seasons almost exactly four years ago.  It was a re-posting of something one of my "sons" had written - about a situation that made him angry and frustrated with humanity.  He admitted in one of his follow-up comments that the title (the one I used as the title of this post) was a bit hyperbolic, but I loved the post when he wrote it and want to re-re-post it here on my own blog tonight. 

I encourage you to read the comments on Times & Seasons, as well - even though it will take some time to do so.  Some of them strayed from the point I was making by re-posting it, so go ahead and skip the comments that don't focus on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  That parable, more than perhaps any other story in our scriptural canon, captures the spirit of what I have been thinking this week - and it is weighing quite heavily on my heart and mind, in more ways than one. 

With that introduction, here is the link:

Today I Lost My Faith in Humanity - Brett John Light, re-posted by Curtis Ray DeGraw (Times & Seasons)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Helping My Children Learn How to Construct Their Own Understanding

I LOVE the Mormon view of eternity - the Buddhist-like focus on striving for perfection (completeness, wholeness, full development) toward integration into a cosmic whole (familial / communal sealing). That simply isn't found in ANY other Christian tradition - period. I want my kids to grasp that concept, even if my own perspective is slightly different than what often is taught in church.

I do that a lot - take a concept that I believe is wonderful at its core but generalized when taught to the community as a whole and "tweak" it to teach my kids how I view it. I am fine with them hearing the "general adaptation" for all at church and the "individual adaptation" from me at home. It gives them a way to navigate real life - where they simply MUST learn to accept and work within organizational generalities while not succumbing always to those generalities in their own personal lives.

Frankly, too many members (and too many people everywhere) fail to grasp that inherent paradox - so they end up choosing only one and fighting the other. They end up never thinking for themselves OR never accepting communal norms.

Summary: I want my kids to get the "overview" the Church teaches AND the details I teach - so they can learn to sort out their own personal view as they grow and leave home. Whatever perspective they adopt eventually (and alter throughout their lives), if they don't learn that process now, they can fall very easily into a state of being "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine". Until they learn to create and "own" their personal perspectives, they are acted upon; when they see me figuring out my own paradigm, they have a chance to be "agents unto themselves".

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Understanding Some Women's Frustrations in the LDS Church

A friend of mine shared the following story with me recently, and I want to pass it on just to see if it has the same impact on others as it did on me:

I have to admit that I have never really understood the angst and pain that many LDS woman talk about. It's just never been an issue for me, though I like to think myself to be progressive and sympathetic . . . Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how one sees the whole picture, that has changed a bit in the last 24 hours. I've evolved - maybe I can understand the issue better. 
This may seem like the silliest, most obvious thing in the world, but I lost some sleep last night. Here is what happened.
Deep down I do appreciate and love the church, and yesterday as I was talking to my wife about church and some options/callings we might do to keep our branch functional in order to keep it going to so our kids will have that resource to help get them through their teenage years --- I made the comment to her that I was getting bitter and frustrated because I WANT to serve and I'm WILLING to help out the Branch in my calling, yet, according to the Church Handbook of Instructions, my days are numbered. There are some callings that require an active temple recommend, and I'm struggling right now to renew mine.
Anyway, so I tell my wife how frustrated I am that because of church policy my calling options are limited and I'm not going to be able to contribute to the LDS church like I want to and need to.
Her response:
"Well, now you know how I've been feeling the last 20 years."

I'm not making any kind of statement in this post about any particular callings, and I certainly am not advocating that women be given the ability to administer Priesthood ordinances, but I really believe there are lots of things women could do in the Church from which they have been excluded historically.  We took a HUGE step, in my opinion, in 2010 when Ward / Branch Council took the place of PEC as the top council in wards and branches, but I believe there still is more that can be done - without changing doctrine or theology in any way whatsoever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Friendship and Fellowship Should Not Be Temporary Assignments

A little over a year ago, I posted this - and I feel like I should re-post it now.  I hope that decision was inspired and that it helps someone:

I don't reach out to anyone any differently than I reach out to everyone - unless I feel impressed to do so on an individual level. I smile at everyone; I talk with everyone; I hug or shake hands with everyone; I flirt with all of the older widows (and many of the older non-widows, whose husbands love it); I play with all the kids; etc.

I am bothered more than I can express whenever I hear someone talking about someone else as a "project" - as the focus of something that has to be done. I believe the best help I can give anyone is to get to know them and sincerely befriend them. That's when I can usually get the best inspiration about how I can help them.

I think if we truly knew, loved and accepted everyone simply as a natural extension of our "love orientation", "activation efforts" would be simply a part of that perspective - not separate activities that need to be carved out of our schedule. That is the ideal.

To be clear, I have NO problem with thoughtful and careful consideration about how to reach and help someone - or to whom to reach out and try to help, but I don't like ulterior motives. "Coming back to church" will happen when someone feels drawn to return, for whatever reason, but it generally happens best or most lastingly when it's not a temporary focus that stops when an objective has been achieved.

If I were in charge of activation efforts, I would say, basically, "I feel like __________ needs a friend right now. Go be that friend. If she is interested in returning to activity or not, be a friend. No matter what happens with other callings and assignments, don't stop being her friend. This isn't a temporary assignment; treat it like a life-long request."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why One Gay Mormon Stays in the LDS Church

Michael wrote a beautiful comment on a post about why people who struggle in some way remain in the LDS Church.  The original post was by Silver Rain, entitled "Why I Still Belong to the LDS Church" (to which I linked earlier on this blog) - but Michael's comment was in a thread where Clean Cut quoted Silver Rain's post.  The link to that post is here.

I have not had the same experience Michael has had (and I usually enjoy church a lot in my current ward), but I love the insight his comment gives about those who struggle in some way with a burden that constitutes a need to labor from being heavy laden - especially since his burdens within the Church are FAR heavier than mine

God bless you, friend. 

Michael's comment, with my own highlighting:

I dread the boring meetings (aka "revelatory experiences"). I abhor the dreadful art and the bland hymn singing. I can barely tolerate the mundane, careless and insulting people. And, as a gay convert, my acceptance in the Church has never been the most welcoming other than in a superficial, pitying kind of way. 
However, when I feel all hope is lost and I am ready to return to my Catholic roots, I feel the beauty of the Holy Ghost and I hear the sweet whisperings of my Saviour telling me how much he loves me and I find myself deeply nourished by the words of the Book of Mormon and the revelations of the Prophet Joseph and I remember the incredible peace of the Celestial Room and I find the strength to survive another week of Church. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on Spiritual Pain, Harm and Healing

1) "The incorrect traditions of their fathers" doesn't apply only to those outside the Church. It applies to the Church, as an institution, and it applies to each individual in the Church, as well. (See the allegory of the vineyard in Jacob 5 for a good description of that concept.) "Incorrect traditions" are interwoven into every organization, from the largest to a single person living alone. That doesn't excuse the effects of those traditions, but it's critical to realize - since it helps blunt the natural tendency toward exclusive harshness when one is hurt by someone or something, particularly "the Church".

2) Believing in infallibility (or holding totally unrealistic expectations) hurts much more than accepting fallibility. Those with lower expectations are harmed less than those who have their unrealistic expectations shattered.

3) NOTHING is strictly an academic issue. EVERYTHING has an emotional element to someone.

4) Those who are hurt severely by someone or something have every right to be mad and want to strike back - and, in some cases, they have every right to strike back. Likewise, time and distance are necessary for healing to occur. However, when time and distance don't heal, other proactive steps must be taken. Striking back and lashing out never is the final solution, and they rarely are the best solution.

5) I personally believe that about 75%-90% of the hurt we feel was not intended by the ones who hurt us - even in many cases where the pain was deep and lasting. In many of those cases, someone was acting in a way that they felt was "right" or "necessary" - or it simply had been drilled into them over their own lifetime. In many other cases, the person actually is totally unaware of the pain or harm they caused.  I can NEVER know exactly and comprehensively why someone acts as they do, so I simply can't judge or condemn THEM - even when I am required to judge and even condemn their actions.

6) Many bad things are the choice of the lesser of two evils - or, at the very least, not a choice of one obvious good and one obvious bad.

7) Finally, time and distance can bring healing, but, conversely, time and distance also can distort and push toward extremes - to the end results of both condemnation and denial. Therefore, healing is most likely when initiated as early as possible after the original harm. Festering emotional and spiritual wounds are no different than festering physical wounds in that regard. If left untreated, they will become cancerous.

Total objectivity ultimately is impossible, but attempted objectivity is important.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Learning from Others Who See Things in Very Different Ways

As I have contemplated my New Year's Resolution to understand more fully that I am not better in God's eyes than any of his other children, I remembered a quote I read a few years ago.  It encapsulates a lot of how I view humility and faith, so I want to share it this month as part of my resolution: 

“You do find, every once in a while, someone who has actually thought about the same problem in a very different way”—and that can be the most important sort of catalyst: the kind that leads to new discoveries.” (Harvard Magazine)  

There is MUCH we can learn from each other, even from those with whom we disagree strongly about many things, if we simply open ourselves up to opportunities to listen to and learn from those who have thought about and see some things differently than we do.  There is an element of a belief in on-going revelation that I believe is manifested in our openness to learn from others around us - not just from God.  I believe that He can and does reveal "many great and important things" through others, and I believe we miss so much growth and progression when we insist on learning and receiving "further light and knowledge only from God - or in "religious" situations. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

How I Approach Sharing the Gospel

I understand the phrase "missionary work" when it comes to describing what full-time missionaries do - since there is much of it that absolutely can and should be classified as "work". However, for regular members, I much prefer the phrase "sharing the Gospel" - since I really don't see it as "work" in any classic sense of that word.

I share the Gospel with others, but it comes now more from a foundation of sharing what brings me joy and seeing what sticks than from expectation of conversion. I don't "hunt" or "fish with a line" anymore (meaning I don't try to identify an individual target and bring it down or reel it in); rather, now I fish with a net - or "chum" - or cast my bread upon the waters (meaning I toss my beliefs on the water and see which fish find it delicious to the taste). I don't try to "hook" anyone anymore; I simply set the table, spread the food and see who is drawn to partake. I don't condemn those who choose to refrain; I just keep repeating the process over and over and over again. I speak what I perceive to be "my truth" - what has brought me peace and joy, but I do so in full respect of the limitations and/or perspectives of those with whom I am speaking.

I'm not working; I'm sharing. The difference is important to me.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

One of the Secrets to Learning by Faith

A friend of mine once told me:

I think you learn more when you are less certain you know the right answer already.

There is a wonderful application to what "faith" really means in that quote.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Progression As a Function of Not Seeing Clearly the End Result

My oldest "non-biological son" sent me a text once that is interesting to ponder:

Someone never goes as far as when they have no idea where they are going.

I see both sides of the coin with this one - that one can stray FAR afield without a conscious destination AND that one can reach unspeakable heights without a ceiling that is fixed in place and immovable.

One of the things I love most about Mormonism's cosmology is that it allows for the ultimate punishment, but it also expands the ultimate reward so far beyond orthodox Christianity that it really establishes its own alternate universe - similar to Buddhism's ultimate universe in many ways. I can wrap my mind VERY easily around the standard Protestant vision of eternity - and that's a HUGE negative to me, since easy just doesn't compel me. There's no mystery in the mainstream Christian conception of Heaven for me, so there's no possible wonder in contemplating it.

I really like the fact that the Mormon vision of the eternities still blows me away and challenges me intellectually. It boggles my mind sometimes to think that Joseph Smith saw things like this - and it makes me appreciate what I see as his struggles to understand how to translate it into a workable, mortal paradigm. I can't imagine trying to do that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Finding Peace and Light Amid the Mists of Darkness

I have come to a foundational conclusion about the need for those who are struggling in the Church to strive to adopt a different perspective than that which often causes the struggle in the first place. I know this is not a universal panacea, but I have come to believe that there is a very common theme that contributes centrally to the stress many members feel about being "faithful" as LDS. I have tried here to keep everything as simple as possible, knowing that painting with a broad brush won't address all stress-inducers but hoping what follows will help someone who reads this somehow.

As I've outlined in other threads, I like the "be ye therefore perfect" injunction - but ONLY if it is understood as a gradual process of growth, enabled by grace, rather than a command to never make mistakes. Likewise, I like the focus on striving to understand the Gospel and keep the commandments - but ONLY if it is framed within the context of underpinning grace and mercy and love. My concern is that too many members adopt a perfectionist paradigm that creates an impossible standard by tying their acceptability to the Lord to how they do in comparison to others - that makes uncertainty and doubt and weakness and struggle bad things, rather than simply part and parcel of our mortal condition.

Here are the principles that I believe are the foundation of mortal peace:

1) "We see through a glass, darkly." (I Corinthians 13:12)

It helps me to remember that even Paul (the Elder McConkie of his time, in a way) admitted that "WE see in part, and WE prophesy in part" and "WE see through a glass, darkly" (1 Corinthians 13) - and even Nephi felt inadequate and prone to failure (2 Nephi 4). If that's true even of Paul and Nephi, it's fine to feel a bit lost and "clinging to the iron rod amid the mists of darkness".

Given that we all are feeling our way through the darkness,

2) "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Everything else is a human attempt to build on that foundation and bring meaning to life. All the rest, therefore, is secondary and supplemental. I'm not saying the rest is unimportant; I'm saying "The Church" is meant to enhance our individual AND communal pursuit of Christ-like development (not vice-versa), and that "the light of life" that will illuminate our way comes not through "The Church" (or any other external connection) but rather through an internal connection to Him.

In saying that, I am not downplaying the very real and powerful illuminating principles I find in Mormonism - and I am not saying that I believe all religions and denominations are equal in their ability to bring people to Christ (especially since I see Christ as the intermediary to bring us to the Father). I am emphasizing, however, what I believe to be the foundation of mortal peace - an internalization of the principle of grace, or Atonement, as it is called within Mormonism.

Therefore, the invitation I see is best stated in the passage:

3) "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

I can't say what that means as a practical process for each and every individual, but I can say that I find peace in my effort to come unto him - and that my Church life has changed almost entirely into a way to serve others within my religious family. That has been an ennobling and enabling paradigm shift for me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

To Persecute Others Less

My New Year's Resolution for this month is to persecute others less - taken from Alma 5:54, which says:

Yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church . . .

My overall resolution goes beyond the parameters of this verse a bit, since this verse focuses on those who persecute faithful members of a religion or denomination, but for this first post I want to focus more narrowly on the actual message in the verse - and examine if I do, in fact, "persecute" the humble who walk righteously before God.  It's a sobering subject, and it's one that I initially brushed aside without much thought - but as I was thinking of how to begin my contemplation and efforts this month I was struck by the thought that, perhaps, the actual question in the verse itself might apply in some way to me, as well. 

I certainly don't intend to persecute anyone, much less those who are humble and share my general beliefs - who have "been brought into this church".  I generally am quite tolerant and accepting, so it has taken some serious introspection to realize areas where I do, in deed, "persecute" fellow church members. 

In my case, it isn't so much an active, stereotypical persecution that concerns me about myself.  There are two primary definitions of the word "persecute" - and I have little or no inclination to inflict the first one, which is:

to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently.

That simply is not in my nature, but as I read the second definition, I was struck by a thought I'm not sure I had considered in quite that way before beginning to think about this month's resolution.  That second definition is: 
to annoy or trouble persistently.  

As those who regularly read my blog (or my comments around the Bloggernacle) know, I am heterodox in some of my beliefs.  I believe deeply and passionately in the Restored Gospel taught in the LDS Church, but there are many areas and topics about which my personal views are quite different than many other members.  I am a "thinker tinkerer" by nature, so I spend perhaps an inordinate amount of time considering multiple possible interpretations of almost everything I believe.  I also am not exactly shy about sharing those views with others - although I do try to be aware of others' sensibilities and not push any particular interpretation on those inside the Church who see things differently than I do.  

What struck me this week as I thought of the idea of persecuting fellow believers is that sometimes I am prone to phrase things (verbal statements and written comments) in somewhat forceful ways - and I know that sometimes this general tone leads others to feel criticized in some way and, perhaps, even attacked occasionally.  I rarely mean to come across this way, but it struck me that if I am aware of this tendency and fail to be even more careful than I am inclined naturally to be, I am, in a sense, allowing myself to "persecute" those with whom I disagree.  At worst, I am "annoying and troubling persistently" other LDS members (especially when I continue to read and comment at sites where I know my views will be annoying to the author); at best, I still am allowing others to feel persecuted - and, in practical terms, sometimes perception truly is reality.  

So, my first focus this month will be to take even more care in how I write here and how I comment in other arenas - both online and in person - to try even harder to ensure that I do not "annoy or trouble persistently" those within the LDS Church whose views are different than mine.  I can't stop sharing what I believe, but I can strive to word what I share as charitably and non-annoyingly as possible.