Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Menial As Important

I think menial service is incredibly important - another one of life's great paradoxes.

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I believe in the servant model of Jesus' life - which makes all service important, especially the stuff that those who won't deign to do it call menial. To me, the menial is the heart of the Gospel - the Good News that our menial concerns matter to He who controls the universe and should matter equally to His children.

I also think this probably is where we fail to understand Jesus the most in our practical lives.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Attend Church

When I attend church, I have NO expectations of being fed myself. I don't mean this to be boastful in any way, but I have been attending for over 40 years - so I rarely hear anything new. However, I do hear certain things phrased in interesting and "new" ways fairly regularly in my current ward, so when I am enlightened it is nice.

I attend consciously to help others - to find ways to phrase things that will be inclusive rather than exclusionary - to hug someone who looks tired or upset - to smile and talk with everyone - to contribute somehow to the community and the peace of individuals.  

I truly enjoy it, since it has become, truly, a way to find myself by losing myself.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On Thanksgiving Weekend

Although my wife and I are not richly blessed in material things, we are richly blessed.  We have enough to live; we have children we love and who love us; we have a religious foundation that gives us peace and great joy; we have friends and extended family who are a blessing in our lives; the list goes on and on. 

One thing for which I am grateful that applies directly to this forum is my discovery of blogging five years ago.  I dove in headfirst to the world of the "Bloggernacle" (the online Mormon group blogging community), and I started writing this blog in 2006.  At first, I posted sporadically, then weekly, then three times per week, and now daily (except Sundays).  I commented on lots of blogs, very frequently (lol), before focusing on writing this blog. 

All of that leads me to express my gratitude for all of you who read this blog.  As I said recently, I don't publicize it actively (since that's not the main reason I write it), but I am thankful that there are people who read it regularly and whom an occasional post seems to help.  I truly do appreciate the comments and responses I get - even almost all of those with which I disagree.  I appreciate the civil tone that prevails in those comments, and I appreciate the opportunity to make new friends I otherwise would not have the wonderful fortune to know in any traditional way. 

So, on this Thanksgiving weekend, I say simply:

Thank you!  You have enriched my life and that of my wife, and I am grateful for you. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

I Am Sincere and Loving and Kind - and Stupid and Clumsy and Wrong

I've said often that I try to see others from the past the same way I hope people in the future see me - stupid and clumsy and wrong oh so many times, but sincere and loving and kind and trying my best.

I really do think that describes the VAST majority of people, and I'd rather be wrong with this view about individuals than be wrong with a more condemning view - since it really isn't about them in the end but rather about how my perspective affects who I become.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

God Bless Those Who Serve in Lonely Callings

 Helping Those with Lonely Callings - Jeff Lindsay (Mormanity)

I know this is not a typical Thanksgiving post, but it hit me as I read Jeff's post that often we overlook people who are performing "lonely callings" - and we ought not do so.  We ought to be thankful for everyone who does anything that helps our religious lives move more smoothly - and we ought to be aware of those who want to do so but don't know how. 

I love the thoughts expressed in Jeff's post - so I would like today to say:

Thanks to everyone who serves in a lonely calling!  Wherever possible, may we make it less lonely by our recognition, attention and care. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How I Approach Giving Priesthood Blessings

When I give a Priesthood blessing I go into it expecting to give comfort - NOT healing or saying anything uniquely profound. I try to be open to whatever might come out of my mouth, but I don't intend to perform miracles.

Call it what you will, but I have found that doing so "works" or is "successful" 100% of the time - since I am open to those times where the Lord chooses to speak through me. Of the hundreds of blessings I have given, there have been hundreds that offered comfort and counsel, a dozen or so that mentioned healing that might or might not have been remarkable and three that have blown me away as I thought afterward about what came out of my mouth.

It was worth giving comfort in the hundreds just for the comfort's sake - but it absolutely was worth it to have those three experiences.

I think life is like that in a lot of ways.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Some Things I Want and Don't Want to Be for My Children

I want my children to know that I am always here for them, but I don't want them to always be here with me.

I want them to feel comfortable asking me anything, but I don't want them to ask me everything.

I want to be a resource for them, but I don't want to be the source for them.

Eventually, I want them to be agents unto themselves - and to become for their children what I was for them.

I want them to be part of an eternal round.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Helping Those Who Are Poor: Self-Reflection

As I have contemplated further how to recognize and help those who are poor (especially in non-monetary ways), I have been struck by the need to step back a bit and make a very simple but profound point.  I hope I can do so in a way that is instructive.

For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)

In other words, in very real and critical ways, all of us are poor - especially in non-monetary ways.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:3

In our striving to become more Christ-like - and to be able to be "saints" or "disciples" of Jesus, it is easy to get so focused or caught-up in that attempt that we lose sight of the fundamental, foundational reality that all of us are non-monetarily poor - and that we actually are counted as "blessed" if we remain or become poor in some ways.  It's easy to view our "wards" at church more like political wards (which was the original meaning behind the organizational term) and forget that we also can see gatherings on Sunday like hospital wards - where sick and hurting and needy people gather for care and healing.

That, perhaps, is the greatest failing I have seen in too many congregations within our modern church - a lack of conscious, intentional, comprehensive, openly expressed recognition of our own "sinnerhood" and the  accompanying masks we too often wear to cover it.  Sometimes we preach the ideal so much that we fail to acknowledge the real - and we too often end up hurting those whose "poverty" is harder to hide than our own. 

Yes, I need to strive to recognize and help those who are non-monetarily poor - but I must do so from the standpoint of someone who is not yet non-monetarily rich (from the position of someone who is "in the same boat", so to speak, and simply is trying to help others find and wear the life-jacket he has found).  I need to understand that, in relative terms, I might be less poor in some ways than others - but that, in absolute terms, I still am a poor beggar who, ultimately, will need to rely on the mercy of He who is mighty to save.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How Can We Recognize When (If) God Is Shouting At Us?

I once was asked the following:

"How would you know, or what would it be like, if God were yelling at you or disciplining you?"

That is a fascinating question, especially since I think we have two VERY different paradigms in our canonized scripture - and because we tend to extrapolate our own experiences with our parents onto God (both the positive and the negative ones). First, the background:

1) The God of the Old Testament is a yelling, destroying, jealous, vengeful God - the ultimate alpha male. God's "love" in the OT seems to be more centered on "protection" than on "feeling" - and that makes sense given the history of oppression and conquest of the Israelite and Jewish nations. In short, the God of the OT is the God of "a people" - loving them by actively and directly protecting them in times of obedience and actively and directly punishing them in times of disobedience.

The same description exists in the BofM prior to the Lord's appearance to the people after his death - a very clear "prosper in the land during righteousness" and "suffer during unrighteousness" distinction. It also exists throughout the D&C - again, during the formative years of the Church when "protection" was paramount.

When protection is the foundational paradigm, it is EASY to see when God is "yelling at you".

The parenting application is that the same paradigm tends to be in place in our own families - that we yell at our kids when they are in the early developmental stages - when perhaps our primary purpose and goal is to protect them and teach them how to live on their own. I'm not saying it's right or correct or good to yell then - only that it's what tends to happen often.

2) The God of the New Testament is a compassionate, meek, merciful, loving, patient, PERSONAL God - the classic man who is in touch with his feminine side - or, interestingly from a Mormon perspective, what normally would be considered a "complete couple" (combination of full masculinity AND femininity). Jesus spoke directly and harshly sometimes, but it was directed almost exclusively to those who were hypocritical leaders who rejected him. The woman taken in adultery ("He who is without sin . . . neither do I condemn thee.") - the Caananite woman (first classified as a "dog" but then blessed anyway) - the unclean (whom he touched and blessed) - etc. All of these were INDIVIDUALS - and it is clear he came to serve, teach and validate them, not to protect the nation.

The same emphasis can be seen in the post-resurrection visit to the Nephites in the BofM - where "punishment" consisted of walking away and letting people alone (withdrawing), rather than direct, active punishment. I think the same can be seen in the modern Church, where the hyperbolic and harsh pronouncements of the Brigham Youngs of the world generally have disappeared and been replaced by the current apostles who serve, teach and validate much more than scream warnings (and it explains why strong warnings grate so much on so many, since they aren't used to hearing them on a regular basis).

When service and validation and teaching are the foundational paradigm, it is HARD to see a need to yell very often - if ever.

The parenting application is that the same paradigm tends to be in place in our own families - that we DON'T yell at our kids when they are in the later developmental stages - when perhaps our primary purpose and goal is to pray that we have served and taught them in such a way that they are able to live on their own in a productive manner.

SUMMARY: I think we, as adults, aren't going to recognize God yelling at us very often - simply because I think he doesn't yell at us very often. I also think if he does yell at us, we will recognize it - unless we've totally stopped trying to listen and completely tuned him out.

If we are trying to be able to recognize whispers (even if the practical application is nothing more than "following our consciences and what we feel is right"), I believe we will hear the shouts.

Finally, as adults, I think we will consider, at the very least, WHY the Church leaders appear to be shouting when they do on rare occasion. (I'm not saying we ultimately have to agree, but I think we should consider the "why" at least. Too many people reflexively brush it off as the rantings of out-of-touch old men - and I can't express how much I disagree with that characterization. I think that reaction is reminiscent of a childish tantrum toward someone in a position of authority, and I think a good indication of one's spiritual maturity is how s/he reacts to counsel or statements with which s/he disagrees reflexively.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mormon Theology: God's Paternal Love

[NOTE: This post is about theology, not about people. It is about what religions and denominations teach in their official creeds, not about what members believe and practice at the individual level.]

Ultimately, one of the reasons I love Mormon theology so much is that it is such a loving theology - FAR more loving than any other Christian denomination of which I am aware. (I don't count Unitarian Universalists, frankly, because, as much as I admire them, I see them as a non-denominational church with a denominational name only.) By a "loving theology", I mean:

1) God does what He does out of what I call "true parental love" - not some condescending "love" that is more like a master has for his pets. I mean that literally. Think of the ultimate end in mainstream Christian theology, and it's incredibly self-serving of God. I want to say this carefully, but it boils down essentially to:

"Adore me. Tell me how much you love me. Praise me. **Give me the glory.** After all, I deserve it; I'm God, and you aren't."

In Calvinism, it can be taken to the extreme that yields:

"Dance for me - all of you. DO your best to please me, and, at the end, I'll let you know which of you I have already chosen to bless and which of you danced your darnedest just so I could take pleasure in your dancing - before I roasted you forever in that fiery lake over there."

In Mormon theology, however, God's entire "work and glory" is to do all he can to make sure his children grow to become like him. His "glory" is the same "glory" I receive when my kids grow up to be good people - the pride and joy and accomplishment I feel when I know that my actions have helped produce something beautiful and good and uplifting and enlightening and wonderful and OF ME. That's true parental love and true grace (at-one-ment) - and it simply doesn't exist in most Christian theology.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sex and Bishop's Youth Interviews

[NOTE: In this post, I'm not talking about "confessions" to a bishop; I'm talking about discussions in an interview format about the details of the Law of Chasity.

I believe a Bishop should NEVER ask something specific about sexual practices of a minor unless he has permission from the parent(s) or guardian(s) to do so. It is fine to ask the question EXACTLY as it is worded in the Temple Recommend interview. "Do you obey the Law of Chastity?" essentially covers it perfectly.

Just for the record, I am most concerned about the way the conversation should occur. I believe fully it should occur in some cases - and, if parental requests are required to make sure certain questions are not asked, then those parental requests can be made in friendly, non-threatening, supportive and sustaining ways. Personally, I would say something like:

"Bishop, I just want you to know that my wife and I want to be the ones who talk with our children about all sexual matters - about details of the Law of Chastity. I support you in your calling, but PLEASE only ask my child if they are obeying the Law of Chastity. PLEASE don't ask ANY specific questions. That's my responsibility as a parent, and I honor and respect that responsibility highly. I promise you, we will talk with our children about it, so you don't need to do so."

If he objected or insisted, I would ask to be allowed to sit in on the interview and, at the appropriate time, talk with my child about any issues the Bishop felt needed to be asked while the Bishop stepped out of the room. I would ask him to tell me what those issues were prior to the beginning of the interview. I then would reiterate my request to ask only the general question once he returned to the room. How much I said to my child while the Bishop was gone would depend totally on the child - and, with my oldest, it probably would have been something like":

"R_______, Bishop ___________ wants us to talk about some specifics of sex - like ____ and ____________. We've talked about these before, and you can talk with me again at any point, so we've talked about it now. Is there anything you want to discuss? If not, let's talk about other stuff for a few minutes, let him back in and have you answer his question when he asks it. OK?" 

I believe totally that some parents do a lousy job of talking about sex with their kids, but that responsibility should not be the Bishop's.  I understand that many youth don't have parents who will talk with them about sex (or, if they did, it would be in a totally inappropriate way), but I would MUCH rather that discussion be had in a group setting conducted by the Bishop than behind closed doors with just the Bishop and a young man - and especially with just the Bishop and a young woman.  I also would prefer the conversation to be between a youth and a called youth leader of the same sex, if a more private conversation would be better. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Helping Those Who Are Spiritually, Informationally and Professionally Poor

Toward the end of last week's New Year's Resolution, I said the following:

My initial resolution this month is to recognize the non-monetary needs of the poor (including the non-monetarily poor) and share more readily what I have that will alleviate their poverty.

This has been an interesting week, for a number of reasons I want to share in this post:

1) I was able to give blessings to a couple of people who really needed to hear what was said to each of them in the blessings they received.  Most of the blessings I have given in my life have ended up being basic blessings of comfort and general counsel, while a handful have been true, undeniable revelatory experiences.  The blessings this week fit the latter category, since they included things I had no intention of saying when I opened my mouth and addressed aspects or their past, present and future lives that were not within my natural power to understand.

I have realized since the blessings that, in a very real and important way, those blessings were an opportunity to share what I have with those who are poor in that regard - whose lives do not allow them the richness of the Spirit that is available in moments when Heaven opens and God speaks to and through his children.  I hope they feel spiritually richer than they did prior to receiving those blessings, and I hope those blessings give them sustenance in a real and powerful way.

2) I have had the opportunity in my job as a college admission counselor to talk with a number of students not just about the college I represent but also about education in general - and those opportunities, more than has been normal, have included some very direct giving of advice and counsel that I generally don't verbalize when I meet with students.  It wasn't anything that I went into those discussions intending to share, but I found myself doing so naturally and incisively in a way that I can't help but feel is related directly to my resolution this month - since I believe each case was an example of sharing something that was needed by those who were "information poor".

3) It has hit me harder than ever that I can choose to share things I have learned from my professional past in what I do now with those who lack the experiences I have had - or I can choose to withhold that help and focus instead on injustices and inequalities.  I have found myself being more open about my perceptions of needed change, but I also have found myself doing so in a manner that I hope is productive and has a chance to be effective - to help those who are "professionally poor".  Nothing objective has changed about the situations that are impacted by this new focus - except my own attitude and what my changed attitude has allowed me to do.

What struck me as a result of this epiphany is that, to a degree, I had been blaming others for my unhappiness and difficulty, while now I realize that much of that unhappiness can disappear as I work to serve despite the difficulty.  I am grateful for that epiphany, even though it is not new or unique in any way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celestial Marriage Is Not Exclusive to Mormons

[NOTE: I wanted to change the normal post time today, to have this post at 11:11AM on 11/11/11 - but old habits die hard, so I changed it to 12:11AM where I live instead as a compromise. However, it was 11:11 in Utah when this posted. Just sayin'.]

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming: 

I personally believe that the core, fundamental, highest command relative to marriage ever given was to "cleave unto her and none else". In our terms, it is to become one as a couple in all ways. Frankly, I don't think ANY temple marriage in which the spouses do NOT become one is a celestial marriage - and I believe ANY non-temple marriage in which the spouses truly do become one IS a celestial marriage. The latter simply hasn't been ratified by God yet (when viewed from a classic Mormon perspective). I view proxy temple work as a validation of this concept - that God will ratify those marriages where the couple became one, even if they were not sealed in this life.

I know there are situations in which becoming one simply isn't possible, for one reason or another - and I also recognize that there are some marriages from which one spouse simply must flee in order to have a chance at the type of relationship I am describing.  However, I can't fathom God tearing apart a couple that has managed to become one solely because one of the partners wasn't totally on board with the religious theology of their time or their spouse. I personally think those who become Christ-like / godly in this life (or who strive to become so) will have "a multitude of sins" covered by the Atonement - and becoming one as a couple, where possible, is a key part of that "covering", imo.

Also, I HIGHLY recommend watching the movie "What Dreams May Come" - and focusing intently on the part near the end where the husband explains to his wife why he won't leave her in (literal) Hell (after leaving her in her previous figurative Hell) - why living in Hell with her is better than living in Heaven alone. (It's instructive that Adam chose to leave "paradise" in order to be with Eve, when the other choice was to remain in the presence of God without her.) If wives and husbands could see the incredibly deep and profound message I took from that scene . . . I think much, if not all, of their collective angst and concern would vanish - and they could tackle life together with faith that they will remain together eternally simply because they won't accept anything else.

(Fwiw, that's how I feel about my wife: ain't nobody going to split us apart, 'cause we are welding ourselves into one being.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Most Touching and Heart-Warming Picture I've Ever Seen

 A Mormon Image: Greater Love - Julie M. Smith (Times & Seasons) 

Read the caption; read the obituary linked in Julie's comment #1; go back and look at the picture and read the caption again.  If your heart isn't touched in a special way, examine your heart. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homosexuality and the Most Basic Double Standard

I need to start with a critical disclaimer:

I have no problem with the LDS Church's position opposing gay marriage, even if I might approach it differently. This post is not about that issue; it is about what I see as a more fundamental issue.  Please, if anyone comments on this post, do NOT try to make it about anything but the point of the post.

With that out of the way:

My most fundamental, foundational issue when it comes to the way homosexuality is addressed in the Church is that there really is a double standard in place right now - NOT the one that many people assume, but a real and important one, nonetheless.

First, based on the way that the Church addresses "fornication" in all its forms, I think it is a HUGE stretch for the leadership to accept homosexual sexual intercourse and the other old terms they use when talking about "things like unto it". (petting, necking, etc.) I don't want that traditional standard changed - although I wouldn't cry if "necking" disappeared from the published works. Frankly, if they are asking unmarried heterosexual members to abstain from that type of activity, I have no problem with them asking unmarried homosexual members to do likewise.

The issue for me is that the Church's current position, while MUCH better than it has been in the past (especially since it openly admits that sexual orientation often is not a choice but rather is biological and strong), still contains a double standard. Single, heterosexual members are allowed to develop an intimate relationship with someone of the opposite sex in many ways - as long as specific lines are not crossed. Those lines are drawn so narrowly for homosexual members, however, that developing an intimate relationship with a member of the same sex is next to impossible - even if the "heterosexual lines" are never crossed. (I know that it is not a bright line, obvious standard that is published and enforced everywhere, but it is the common view in most units of the Church, imo.)

For example, I was able to hold hands with my girlfriend, kiss her, sit arm in arm, gaze into her eyes, etc. - all in public AND privately, without any fear of punishment. Iow, I was able to show my affection and love for her in various ways without ever crossing into any inappropriate activity. That simply is not true for homosexual members. They are asked to avoid that type of loving, intimate bond - even if they never cross the lines that would be considered inappropriate for single, heterosexual members.

I believe that it is this discrepancy that lies at the heart of the issue for the Church - and that if we simply eliminated that double standard, the discussion would change in fundamental and important ways.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

He Saves Us from the Paths We Don't Want to Take

My oldest daughter wrote the following during her freshman year in college.  She wrote it after reading the Biblical verse quoted at the end of the poem.  I was blown away by the imagery then, and I decided I should share it now:

He Saves Us, Anyway

You're drowning. And no one is there to care.
Trapped under the ice. You pound on it, desperate to break free.
But all you do is crack the ice. It does not break.
That always happens. You come so close to being free, but regardless
You're still stuck. Miserable, lonely, crying.
You start to sink lower and lower. Looking side to side, wanting help.
But finding none. Only seeing darkness.
You look down. Darkness. Reminder of your misery. Reminder of your
Longing to be happy. Reminder of the path you are heading to.
The path that you do not want to take. 

You keep pounding on the ice. It does not break.
You try to not take the path you so desperately hate, but you sink
Further and further.
You reach as far as you can towards the ice. Your fingers touch it.
You gather strength enough to pound once more. But to no avail.
Why can you not break free? Are you not good enough?
Thoughts of worthlessness. They are the death of you. Pulling you
Even lower than you were before.
You are ready to give up. Just follow the inevitable, follow the path
You do not want to take. 

You stop yourself from glancing down again. You almost look side-to-side.
Then you remember that you have not truly looked up. Only to pound on the ice.
But if pounding has not worked in the past, why would it work now?
You look up anyway. You do not pound on the ice. You see the cracks that
Your seemingly futile efforts have made. And beyond the cracks, there is light.
You wish you had the strength to break the ice.
To go beyond this place of darkness. To a place of warmth and comfort.
But you do not pound. You think about how worthless you are.
But then you think about how there was no light before you started pounding.
Maybe your efforts were not worthless after all.
You realize that you can not break out on your own from  

The path you do not want to take.

And when you stop trying to do it on your own, and you look at the light,
You realize there is a hand stretched out.
He breaks the ice for you. He pulls you out of the darkness.
He provides you with warmth you never imagined.
And that is when you realize that you tried your best,
and although your best was not enough to save yourself, He saved you, anyway.
Because despite your loneliness, He was there. He was always there.
You stopped trying to save yourself from the path you don't want to take
and learned to trust Him, who loves us all. 

2 Samuel 22:29 - "For thou art my lamp, O Lord: and the Lord will lighten my darkness."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Helping Those Who Struggle When You Struggle, Too

A friend of mine once asked me the following question:

Is there any advice you can provide on how to talk to my kids about their doubts when I'm riddled with my own?

My response to him was:

Repentance means nothing more than "change" at its core. What you are going through is a true repentance process - NOT in the classic "bad man becomes good man" construct that most members picture, but in the wonderful "good man examines self to become better" process.

Frankly, I'd share your experience with your kids - in an age and individual child appropriate way, of course, but openly and honestly. I'd start out by talking about how you used to take everything at face value and just believe - because that's what you thought was expected of you and because it's easier to do that. I'd mention that you went through an intense and difficult time of doubt - where you weren't sure what you personally believed. I'd mention that you are gaining a PERSONAL understanding and testimony of many things that you took for granted before - and that you still are trying to figure a lot of stuff out. I wouldn't go into specifics unless someone asks, but I'd end by talking about what repentance really means - that it is more about changing who you are in a positive, intentional way than about beating yourself up over past mistakes - that Jesus paid for our past mistakes and freed us to pursue progression and positive change and joy.

Actually, I'd end by telling them that you now understand deeply why people have doubts and concerns and struggle with various things - and that you are willing to talk with each and every one of them at any time about any doubts or concerns or struggles they are having. I'd tell them that it's perfectly fine to struggle - that having real faith actually is founded on being willing to work through struggles and not just "give up" when we don't understand something. It's not passive acceptance, but proactive and focused effort to figure it out and learn - to "gain knowledge" by both study AND prayer/contemplation.

That's my gut reaction. It is a scary proposition in many ways, but I think your children can gain tremendous strength and insight if they know they aren't the only ones who struggle - and that, conversely, they can feel inadequate and even "bad" if they think they are alone in their struggles.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Recognizing the Needs of the Poor and Sharing More Readily with Them

My New Year's Resolution this month is to "recognize the needs of the poor more and share more readily with them."  It is taken from Alma 5:55, which says:

Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?  

Honestly, in theory, this should be an easy resolution for me.  I grew up poor, the second of eight children with a school custodian father and a mom who didn't work outside our home - and rarely inside it.  (That's not an insult of any kind or "bad" in any way.  For more detail about my parents' situation, see this post.)  As a teenager, I paid for most of what I wanted - and my father opened the checkbook for us to see the inadequate balance whenever we asked for something we simply couldn't afford.

Most of our married life, my wife and I have been relatively poor.  I walked away from significant opportunities when I graduated from college to teach high school - a decision that flabbergasted my college friends.  I have been unemployed more than once, due to multiple changes in career paths.  We had a few years of plenty, when I had a career sales year, but a bad investment ended that period of prosperity.  I now work in an industry I absolutely love, and it provides a wonderful tuition benefit for our children in college - but I have had to start over at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak, and, therefore, once again, we are relatively poor.

My wife's upbringing was not quite as strapped as mine, but it certainly wasn't anything above moderate-middle class.  

Given our lives, it should be a simple thing for me to recognize the needs of the poor and share more readily with them.  After all, being relatively poor makes it much easier to recognize the needs of the poor - since they are, to some extent, our own needs.  However, being relatively poor also makes it hard sometimes to let go of what we do have and become relatively poorer as as result.

I believe neither the absolute nor relative poverty of one's situation contributes automatically or predominantly to one group sharing with others in a "personally significant" way, since I believe the rich who share often don't share to the extent that the poor do (meaning that when the rich share, it usually is not as much of a sacrifice as that of the poor), but I also believe the poor sometimes justify their lack of sharing more quickly than the rich.  I think there are impediments to sharing freely and meaningfully for each group, and, most importantly for this post, I think the focus (almost obsession) with finances in our modern society leads us to over-emphasize monetary sharing and de-value non-financial sharing.

So, my initial resolution this month is to recognize the non-monetary needs of the poor (including the non-monetarily poor) and share more readily what I have that will alleviate their poverty.

The possibilities are endless, and, therefore, the need for discernment and inspiration is paramount.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Loving and Accepting Those Who Don't Fully Love and Accept Us

It is SO hard for many people to truly give up the idea that they know what's best for everyone else.

I think as we talk of any topic relative to the Church that we simply have to keep in mind that "my way is not others' way". If we can't do that, if we hold onto the idea that those who do or see or believe or act differently than we do are completely wrong, or less informed, or less enlightened, or any other pejorative judgment, then we are doing to them exactly what they do to us that causes us to complain. I'm not addressing only those outside the LDS Church when I say that. I'm talking every bit as much about our fellow pew mates in many cases.

For example, there is NO guarantee that differences among members in intellectual and spiritual and emotional struggles have ANYTHING to do with the afterlife or our end result, since it seems to be more about how we handle them than that they exist. There is no guarantee that those who appear to float blissfully along in life, attending meetings without any doubts or concerns or angst, doing what they are asked to do, never turning down a calling, etc. aren't better off in the long-run than those who struggle; however, there also is no guarantee that they actually are growing and progressing and becoming better. Maybe they spend their time serving others, while others spend their time obsessing on the internet; maybe they are acting automatically with no conscious decision simply out of a mindless following of the patterns of their youth, while others who serve less do so more consciously and purposefully. Maybe God appreciates and rewards unthinking dedication. Maybe not, but maybe. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe.

The point is that we don't know for sure, so we need to try to let go of our own self-righteousness and allow others within the Church to be whoever they are - loving and accepting them for who they are, not whom we want them to be. We talk of how we want that from others - being loved for who we are; we need to be willing to give them that first - even if it never is returned to us by them.

After all, "We love Him, because He first loved us."  That is a godly characteristic that is hard for many, but it is so important as we muddle along together while seeing through our glass, darkly. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Know Far Less of Life Than We Tend to Think We Do

One of the most baffling aspects of life for me is the stark difference in experiences among humans. I can't explain it - other than to state that I am positive it has little if anything to do with effort or sincerity or even "faithfulness", since I know of any number of people who are more of each of those things than I am but who have not had experiences like mine. It truly baffles me, and I don't hold it up as proof of anything - except that we know far less of life (both here and not here) than we tend to think we do. Of that, I am certain - and, ironically, that is one of the things from which I have found great comfort and strength and peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Am I Accomplishing My Mission in Writing This Blog?

I don't actively publicize my blog much - except when I provide a link on another site to something I've written here.  I could spend more time in efforts to expand my readership, but I spend as much time as I am able in good conscience already - and I never have felt the need to market it more vigorously.  However, I have wondered occasionally who reads it of whom I'm not aware and how they find it - specifically because I wonder sometimes if I am accomplishing the mission I set for myself when I started writing actively back in 2007.  

By Common Consent has a series of posts that list search phrases people use that end up pointing them to that site.  It's quite hilarious in some instances, and one of those posts was published recently, so I decided to take a look at what brings people here who don't know about my blog.  I assumed there wouldn't be any truly hilarious cases, but I figured I at least should check and see what appeared in my queue for the last 24 hours.  The following is what I found, along with my commentary:

"becoming a more forgiving person" 

(Cool.  I like that one - a lot.  It was a post from March 2009.)

"how to teach forgiving others in a sensitive way" 

(This search led to the same post as the search above.)

"tongue can be sharp sword" 

(I couldn't remember which post that would have been, so I checked.  It was a post I wrote almost 3 years ago.  Wow!) 

"Mormonism and reincarnation" 

(This one was from March of this year.)

"What is the difference between sin and transgression?" 

(This query is the most common I have seen over the years.  That is fascinating to me - and it is something I would not have guessed when I began blogging.) 

"to be less envious" 

(This one is from June of this year.)

"What is the meaning of vaunteth?" 

(This one is from March 2010.)

I know there is nothing profound or funny in this list, but I was struck by two things:

1) When I write something here, it is accessible for years to come - and, assuming nothing happens to alter that situation, I am achieving my primary objective in writing this blog.  My descendants (and others) will have a record of my beliefs - a spiritual journal, if you will - when I am gone.

2) People whom I don't know are being led to my writings - and, while I don't have any idea if that is a net positive for any of them, I hope it is. 

Those are the two main reasons I write daily posts - to record "the things of my soul" for my children and their children ad infinitum and to leave my own testimony, in a way, for others to read and, hopefully, find comfort and some measure of help and support.

It isn't much, but, especially, in the case of those I don't know, it constitutes "all (I) can do".