Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Year's Resolution for 2012

Over the past four years, I have established only one new year's resolution each year: to become more Christlike / godly than I was at the end of the last year.  I have done this by taking specific passages from scripture that articulate multiple characteristics of godliness and pursuing one characteristic each month - not in an attempt to become "perfect" at it that month, but simply to "become" more (fill in the blank) by the end of that month than I was at the beginning of the month.

In essence, my resolution has been to "be" better each and every day, in some meaningful way.  I have phrased it in terms of "becoming" - but, in a very real and important way, it really is all about "being" in the here and now.  It has been an amazing experience - one I wish I had started in my youth. 

In 2008 ("New Year's Resolution") and 2009 ("New Year's Resolution - 2009"), my focus was on the characteristics listed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 in 2008 and Matthew 6-7 in 2009); my focus for 2010 ("New Year's Resolution: 2010") was on the aspects of charity listed in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; my focus in 2011 ("New Year's Resolution - 2011") was on the questions about being spiritually born of God and receiving his image in our countenances asked in Alma 5.

This year, I have decided to take a slightly different approach.  I still want to focus on becoming more Christlike, but I am going to do so by considering each of our Articles of Faith, one-by-one each month, using the 13th Article of Faith as the analytical foundation of my contemplation and application of each of the other Articles of Faith each month.  In practical terms this means the following:

The 13th Article of Faith says:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. 

I want to focus each month on how I can understand and internalize what is taught in each Article of Faith a little better - to "become" more "complete, whole, fully developed" with regard to the core "fundamentals of Mormonism", if you will - but I want to do so with the explicit understanding that:  

"If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, (I must) seek after these things." 

Therefore, my resolution this year is not limited to understanding better what our Articles of Faith say "we believe".  Rather, it is focused on understanding better the broader tapestry of God's revealed word to all His children and gaining a better understanding of and appreciation for "(everything) virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" that deals with the principles and concepts articulated in the Articles of Faith.  In other words, I am resolved to understand what "we believe" in the broader context of how both "we" and "others" have interpreted God's revelations / inspiration to them concerning those things that "we believe" - with a direct nod to Article of Faith 9, which says:

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

It is my resolution this year to "seek after these things" more directly - in a more focused, intentional, planned manner - and, as I have done for the past four years, to write about my contemplation and practical experiences each Saturday here in my "spiritual journal".

With that introduction, my monthly focus will be:

January: The Godhead
February: Individual Accountability 
March: The Atonement of Jesus Christ
April: Principles and Ordinances
May: Preaching and Administration
June: Religious Institutional Organization
July: Spiritual Gifts
August: Scripture
September: Revelation
October: Mortal "Zion" (Unity) and the Post-Mortal Life
November: Worship
December: Civic and Social Responsibility

Friday, December 30, 2011

I Achieved Less, but Became More

The following is a thought-provoking post - and it summarizes, in a way, how I feel about my New Year's Resolutions over the past four years.  

Running the Numbers - Maralise (Segullah)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Real Measure of Charity

I see "pure Mormonism" as the most charitable of all Christian theologies - both in the way it treats God and His children. (and I think very, very few people understand what I mean by a charitable treatment of God - but that's for another post)

I see various problems in the Church at all levels and in all eras in understanding, internalizing and living pure Mormonism - but that's true, unfortunately, of ALL ideals taught everywhere. People generally stink at living ideals. Therefore, all I really can do is strive to become more charitable and help others to do so, as well - all the while continuing to be charitable to those who aren't charitable themselves. That, I believe, is the real measure of charity - how we view and treat the uncharitable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Discussing Sex and the Word of Wisdom With Our Children

I am very open about sex with my kids - and I tell them why I believe what I believe. That, to me, is more important than listing do's and don'ts - explaining why I hold the values I hold.

A simple example of something about which I feel passionately and explain to my children very openly:

I don't want any of my children to drink, but I approach it slightly differently with my girls. I tell them directly that they don't know their own limits until they've passed them, and that if a girl passes her limit publicly, she is at the mercy of the boy(s) who are with her. Boys sometimes do horrible things when they are drunk, but girls often have horrible things done to them. (I know the reverse if true, also, but, generally, girls risk more when drunk than boys do.) 

This is NOT a "scare tactic" in my eyes, and I tell them without pulling any punches that public drinking is one of the leading causes of rape. It's just not worth the risk in my mind, so I tell them I associate the Word of Wisdom in that way with the Law of Chastity - especially for girls.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Be Charitable to Leaders with Whom You Disagree

Whenever I have a leader who says something with which I don't agree to some degree, I always try to put myself in the position of that leader - then treat that leader and their words like I would want others to treat me and my words.

I don't want others to accept everything I say as God's own word and "follow" or "obey" me blindly, but I also don't want them to disbelieve and doubt everything I say. If I am in a position of perceived authority, I want to be taken seriously and have my words accepted generally - simply out of respect for my effort. If I'm ignorant or a jerk, that's different - but if I am trying my best, I want to be challenged lovingly and privately (whenever possible) when someone disagrees. (and I really do want to know when others disagree) 

Ultimately, if I am leading an organization, I want my final decision to be accepted generally by those who aren't in a position to know of and understand all the details that affected my decision - especially if they didn't let me know of their concerns at the time of my decision. If hindsight proves I was wrong, so be it. I just hope others will understand I did the best with what I knew.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

An Incredible Musical Performance: Enjoy on Christmas

The following blew me away when I first saw it:

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Christmas Story Might Have Happened VERY Differently than We Think

The following is a wonderful explanation of how our traditional understanding of the Christmas story might be wrong - and I really like the overall picture it paints of Joseph and how he cared for his beloved Mary.  I have no idea how accurate it is historically, but I really like the thought experiment it represents and its conclusions: 

The “traditional interpretation” of the story of Jesus’ birth gets many obvious things wrong. The image of Joseph and a 9-month pregnant Mary, riding by themselves, pulling into Bethlehem during the snowstorm night of December 24th, going from inn to inn, and then Mary giving birth by herself in a stable, doesn’t work. Using Matthew and Luke, and the proper interpretation of words, we get the following:

1) Joseph puts everything on the line – reputation, standing in the community, etc – because of his love for Mary. He doesn’t want to make her “a public example”, so he puts her “away privily” (i.e. privately out of view).

2) The way he does this is by taking her away from Nazareth, probably before her 5th month or so when she really begins showing. Nazareth is in Galilee, Bethlehem is just outside Jerusalem and we know she is near Jerusalem because she meets with her cousin Elizabeth, who’s husband is a priest at the temple in Jerusalem.

3) We are told that Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because that’s were his “house and lineage” is, i.e. brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. In the time of Mary, giving birth was the single most dangerous thing a woman would do in her lifetime. Joseph brought her down safely with his kin long before she was due, with people who loved him and would not mock Mary as they did in Nazareth.

4) From archaeological digs, we know that houses in the village of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus where typically 3-level, and often built into the hills. The lowest level was for the animals, the next level was for living/cooking. The top level was for sleeping and was referred to as the “inn”.

5) Mary, then, in the spring of the year – while surrounded with support and loved ones -gave birth to Jesus in the sleeping area of the home, who was then “wrapped in swaddling cloths”, taken downstairs and “laid in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (to sleep). 

Thanks, "Larryco" for sharing it. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Recognizing, Understanding and Valuing Current Prophets and Apostles

I think it's next to impossible to judge how much of what happens in any organization is "prophetic" or "inspired" or "innovative" or "transcendent" (and, especially, "lasting") in the moment. Just like in my own life, sometimes the best benefit of enduring comes from looking back with the perspective of time and realizing why I felt impressed to do something that I didn't understand in the moment. That happens all the time to me now, but I have multiple decades of adulthood and marriage and parenthood which I can ponder now.

Personally, as I look back and try to see the fuller picture of the Restoration, I think I can appreciate the chaos of the genesis of the Church, the entrenchment that followed as the leaders dealt with the splintering that occurred as a result of the chaos, the move to correlate what was believed to be the core of the "restoration" and systematically stop teaching the speculative stuff that flourished amid the earlier chaos - and the current move to shift focus back to much of the original that is considered to be unique AND non-speculative.

My point with that long sentence is that "prophecy and seership" can take different meanings in different times, but I think, just like how a prophet is often without honor in his own land, it is easy for us to discount "current prophecy and seership" because it seems so common and non-fantastic to us. Personally, I have seen a HUGE shift over the last 20 years to push the responsibility for practical prophecy and seership down the ladder and ask local leaders and members to become prophets in their own sphere - and that is an exciting return to a former time, albeit with correlation that attempts to control the chaos and limit collateral damage so that the earlier splintering doesn't happen again. Having to manage that type of shift probably would give me ulcers, and it is an incredibly dangerous thing from an organizational development standpoint, so I appreciate it as truly inspirational.

Again, however, that is hard to recognize from the perspective of limited years. I dare say it might be almost impossible to see the staggering amount of change without at least 20 years of adulthood in the Church, which automatically excludes nearly all of those who yearn the most for change - the 18-35 year old group.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It's Not "Being" on the Rock; It's "Building" on the Rock

I can relate to the verse that says, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased" - since I have six children in whom I am well pleased.

The following link is to a post written by one of my daughters when she was 15 years old - an amazingly profound thought about building our houses upon the rock.  I know I am biased as her father, but it truly is profound.

The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock - Reine (Walking on Sunshine)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Learning to Dance in the Rain

One of the students with whom I was communicating as part of my job a while ago had a tagline for her e-mails that I absolutely love - and I think it encapsulates beautifully and succinctly something that really is profound.

All of us are born into a world of struggle and turmoil - of some sort and to some degree. In the middle of all of that, I hope we can understand and remember something very simple yet profound:

"Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain!!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Like the Jewish Custom of Not Using God's Name

The reason I personally like the custom of not using God's name is that it doesn't tie God to one name - allowing God to be all names to all people. I absolutely think God would allow and appreciate that - and I have a personal experience as to why I say that.

My name is Curtis Ray. I grew up as Ray to my friends and most family, since my father is Curtis. However, I also have an uncle Ray on my mom's side of the family - so my mom's side of the family called me Curtis Ray. Professionally, I often am called Curtis - and I sign using my full name. I was Dad to my kids until a few years ago, when my wife was the YW Pres. in our ward. One of the YW started calling her Mama DeGraw, and, by default, I became Papa DeGraw. My own kids now call me Papa most of the time, and my Google name is Papa D. (Which was a result of the abbreviated way Mama DeGraw ended up being used.)  At Church, I am Brother DeGraw or Ray - but when I served in a small branch in Ohio I was Brother Ray. When I taught high school, I was Mr. DeGraw - or Mr. D.

So, I am:

Curtis Ray
Papa D
Papa DeGraw
Brother DeGraw
Brother Ray
Mr. DeGraw
Mr. D

I really don't care what people call me, as long as they are comfortable with what they use - and they are being respectful.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Best 25 Years of My Life

Twenty-five years ago tomorrow Mama said "Yes" to a simple question in the Provo temple.  It changed my life, and I will be grateful eternally for her answer.  She loves "our songs" - so I thought I would pay tribute to my eternal companion in a way that she does regularly on her own blog for special occasions.  

The following are two of "our songs" that express very well how I feel:

Colin Raye is one of our favorite singers.  He has a lot of our favorite songs, but this one has a wonderfully appropriate message: 

Air Supply sang many the romantic songs of our teenage dating years.  The one below came out just before I left on my mission - and Mama listened to it regularly while I was gone, since it applied so well to our situation at the time.   


I love you, Michan! 

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dance of Opposition Within Us

When we begin to awaken to the light of the soul, life takes on a new depth. The losses we have suffered, the delight and peace we have experienced, the beauty we have known, all things belong together in a profound way. One of the greatest treasures in the world is a contented heart. When we befriend the twilight side of the heart, we discover a surer tranquility where the darkness and the brightness of our lives dwell together. We gain the courage to search out where the real thresholds in life are, the vital frontiers, the parts of our life that we have not yet experienced. Beyond work, survival, relationships, even family, we become aware of our profound duty to our own life. Like the farmer in spring, we turn over a new furrow in the unlived field. We awaken our passion to live and are no longer afraid of the unknown, for even the darkest night has a core of twilight. We recover within us some of the native integrity that wild places enjoy outside. We learn to befriend our complexity and see the dance of opposition within us not as a negative or destructive thing but as an invitation to a creative adventure. The true beauty of a person glimmers like a slow twilight where the full force of each color comes alive and yet blends with the others to create a new light. A person's beauty is sophisticated and sacred and is far beyond image, appearance or personality.  - John O'Donohue, "Beauty: The Invisible Embrace"

2 Nephi 2:11 says that there must be opposition in ALL things.  "All things" would include the Church, would it not? It also would include opposition within each individual member.

Perhaps the lack of struggle we crave so much isn't a good thing in the long run - or even possible. Perhaps learning to be at peace with external AND internal opposition is one of the great liberators of the Gospel ("Good News") - the idea that the inherent turmoil that "must needs be" is unavoidable and reconciled ("atoned for") already in the eternal scheme of things. 

In that light, a good friend of mine once wrote:

We devour the beautiful and enticing fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. It is no longer on the tree, shining in appearance. Have we destroyed it? No. We took it inside ourselves. We digest it, and it is assimilated into our being, into every cell. The experience is described as the assimilation of opposites. In order to truly live, we must also die. In order to have joy, we must weep. It's a tension of opposites that plays out like a fractal diagram expanding, creating a life experience. We can fear this. We can find beauty and wonderment in it.

I say we are on a hero's adventure, not sitting in a study hall taking a pass/fail proficiency exam.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Truly Profound Post: Becoming an Adult of God

A friend of mine, whom I admire greatly for her insight into life and the Gospel, wrote the following almost three years ago.  I thought it was one of the most profound things I'd ever read at the time, and I came across it again and decided to post it here.  I hope it resonates as deeply for those who read it here as it did for me when I first read it: 

We talk in the church about being a child of God, and there are many scriptures about becoming childlike or having the faith of a child. But I think many of us have found that at some point, child-like faith isn't sufficient for us. We want the promise of eternal progression implied in the most basic LDS doctrine. We want to become adults of God. We no longer want to be spoon-fed history or basic doctrines, but we want to become responsible for our own spiritual journey. We want to lead and to have our own vision.

The stage between childhood and adulthood is called puberty. And it can be ugly and difficult. In that stage, we think we know much more than our parents and teachers. We enjoy smarting off to authority figures. We see every mistake our elders made as evidence of them not getting it. We know we would never be like that if we were in charge. When I was a teenager, I was pretty mouthy and disrespectful at times. As an adult, I was able to go back to one of my Sunday School teachers, and I apologized for how awful I was when he was teaching us. He put up his hand and said, "Never apologize for what you do as a teenager. It is a necessary part of becoming a responsible adult. You have to distance yourself from the adults who are in authority over you so that you can become an adult. You have to make many attempts at this before you are ready to be an adult."

All humans, including those of us on this site are at various stages toward spiritual adulthood. This analogy helps us to know that there is progress to be had through the seeming regression of the transitional age between "simple faith" and "mature faith". As it says in Corinthians 13:
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How I Would Describe My Testimony and Feelings for the Church in Non-religious Terms

I am convinced the LDS Church literally provides what it claims to provide for many of its members - an assurance that they need in this life based on a vision of the next life. I believe it literally provides for me what I want from it - a wonderful theological framework, a community in which I find joy in serving, a symbolic compass that enthralls me, a flawed community and organization that still manages to provide great leadership opportunities to many, a place where improvement is possible and multi-faceted evolution can occur, etc.

I really don't care much about it being "literal" in a universal sense and from an intellectual standpoint, as long as I literally can get from it what I want to get from it (and become through it what I want to become through it) - and, even though I want to get some things that aren't available yet, the LDS Church does so (for me) far better than other Christian constructs and has provided some deeply personal, spiritual, cosmic experiences for which I am grateful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Understanding Better the VIsit of the Resurrected Lord to the People of the Book of Mormon

The Great and Marvelous Change of 3 Nephi 11:1 - Jeff Lindsay (Mormanity)

I don't agree with all of the conclusions of the author whose paper Jeff links in this post, but I agree whole-heartedly with the major conclusions and with Jeff's interest in it.  There is much that is assumed about Jesus' visit that simply doesn't match the actual text, and it's good to read a paper and a post that address some of those assumptions.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Judging Others As Being Judgmental

I have lived in two wards where judgmentalism was a big issue, but I have lived in at least five wards that were anything but judgmental. It's a mixed bag, and we need to acknowledge that to begin to understand the big picture, I believe.

I just want to point out the danger of describing others in judgmental terms while railing against those who are judgmental. I had a friend who left the Church because, in his own words, "They are hypocrites" - because they didn't live perfectly the ideals they taught. That ward was FULL of loving, caring, kind, Christians - but my friend left because "they" dared to teach an ideal they couldn't live. I failed completely in helping him see the disconnect between what he condemned in them and his own reaction to their imperfections - and it haunts me to this day.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Different Look at Sheep and Shepherding

Traditionally, sheep have been used in many ways to personify unthinking obedience.  "Like lambs to the slaughter" and "mindless sheep" are common images, but that image is not what is described in our scriptures when a shepherd enters the picture.

In our scriptures, the use of sheep to make a point about our relationship to leaders (principally, the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Master) does not give such a portrayal - and I believe the exact nature of the relationship between a shepherd and the sheep gets glossed over too much.  If I am to "watch over the flock more diligently" this month, I first need to examine that portrayal more closely before I can model it more effectively.

The following are a few verses that describe the relationship between a good shepherd and his sheep, with my comments about each verse:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  (John 10:27

To watch over the flock more diligently, first my voice must be heard - and recognized.  Second, I must know them well enough to lead them to where they need to go.  Those whom I "shepherd" in some way must know me in such a way that when they hear my voice they understand that I know them - and, understanding I know them, they will follow me as I lead.  (That is a powerful picture many people don't consider - that a good shepherd doesn't "drive" sheep anywhere from behind; rather, he leads in front and they follow.)  In a way, what I say must be relevant to them and touch them in such a way that they know I have their best interests at heart - they must trust that I know them well enough not to lead them into harm.

That should concern me enough to be extra "diligent" in the way I speak to them.

I know my sheep, and they are numbered. (3 Nephi 18:31

There are multiple verses that mention how the sheep are "numbered".  The most obvious definition of this word is "counted", but there is another connotation that I really like - to be "included".  If I know the flock and watch over them diligently, in a very real way I must "include" them in my life and be "included" in theirs.  I can't shepherd without spending significant time with the sheep. 

Shepherds don't lead sheep from afar; they walk among them.  They serve them.  They are not distant, authoritarian rulers.  They serve their sheep.  In fact, their entire job and purpose is to protect the sheep and allow them to thrive.  If there is a totally self-less position, it is that of shepherd - and this is exemplified in the idea of "numbering" them.

The thread that runs through all of the possible references is encapsulated in the following scripture, to which I will not add any commentary:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him:

Feed my sheep.  (John 21:15-17)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Effect of Personal Debt on Zion

Many people don't stop and consider the service side of debt - that every dollar I pay in interest is a dollar I can't give to someone in need. Thus, every dollar of personal debt inhibits my ability to help establish Zion fully. 

That alone is worth being debt-free, imo - although I certainly understand the need for some debt for a house, an education and, perhaps, a car. 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Different, Simple Look at Unrealistic Expectations

I think we set ourselves up for failure when we set others up for failure.

"Unrealistic expectations" is just another name for judgment.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"By Common Consent": Validating Those Who Sustain AND Those Who Oppose

When I am at the stand asking for a sustaining vote and any who object, I make it a point to look over the congregation thoroughly - and, for the objection part, look behind me at those sitting on the stand, as well. I just think I should do what I can to make sure everyone knows I take the time to look and grant the possibility that there might be someone who would object.

In most situations, with most callings, the sustaining will be automatic and almost unthinking (which is not the ideal, but is what it is) - but there can be situations where someone knows something not available to the person extending the calling and hidden by the person accepting the calling, and I believe that such a possibility is important to validate in the minds of the members.

"By common consent" should not be an empty phrase.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Regular Members as "Counselors in Zion" to a Bishop Who Is a Shepherd and Judge

Alma 5:59 says:

For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him. 

When I chose my New Year's Resolution for this month ("Watch over the flock more diligently."), I knew that I was stretching the technical definition a bit by focusing on this verse near the end of a chapter that talks so comprehensively about things that individuals need to consider with regard to their own spiritual growth.  The surrounding context of this verse makes it clear that it refers to Jesus, the Christ - the Good Shepherd - the one who watches over his flock and guards his sheep from predators.  The final section of this chapter is radically different in focus than the rest of the chapter, and I don't mean to minimize, twist or overlook that difference by taking verse 59 a bit out of context and "likening it unto (my)self".

When I made this particular resolution, nearly a year ago, I had no idea the posts I would read recently around the Bloggernacle - the multiple posts that would be written about pastoral care, the role of Bishops within the LDS Church and how members should and can interact with "shepherds" who are appointed to watch over them.  I was struck HARD as I contemplated this resolution how much Bishops are protectors and guardians - and how much that role is part of and impacts their duties as Judges in Israel.

I know I instinctively want Bishops to be counselors, and I know many Bishops who are good counselors - but, at the most basic level, I also know that a Bishop must be aware of and diligently on guard against potential dangers to his flock.  That role as protective shepherd sometimes can be at odds with my desire for him to fill a role as confidante and counselor - and it can cause a tension in situations where I or other members "confide" things that are not necessarily "confessions" of incorrect action or sin.

The expression of uncertainty and/or doubt is one of these situations.

The ideal Bishop-as-counselor/confidante would view such expressions as a chance to explore nuance and individual perspective - focusing strictly on the individual in question and not seeing anything in such expressions as "dangerous" or "harmful".  Such expressions of uncertainty and/or doubt would not be seen as "confessions" - since there is NO "sin" attached to uncertainty or doubt.  Thus, ideally, a Bishop would be able to listen to someone who was experiencing a crisis of faith (struggling to maintain hope in what cannot be seen) without any kind of "protective reflex".

However, as a "shepherd", a Bishop is required to be vigilant in seeing potential dangers to his "flock" - and it is easy for Bishops to see a questioning, uncertain and/or doubtful sheep as such a potential danger.  After all, what if that sheep talks with other sheep and plants questions, uncertainty or even doubt in their minds?  I acknowledge that such an outcome is a real possibility; hence, there is an inherent tension between a Bishop being an unbiased, objective "counselor/confidante" and a dedicated "shepherd/judge".

How does this relate to my personal resolution this month?

I am resolved this month to be more diligent in the protection of all who might turn to me for counsel, advise, perspective, insight or assistance of any kind.  I have more than one natural "flock": my children (and, in a way, my wife - although I am of her "flock" in that regard, as well); the students I serve in my role as a college admission counselor; the students whom I serve as an Institute teacher; people in my community who look to me to see how a Mormon acts and believes; those online who read my blog and my comments on other sites; etc.

I am careful in my use of the term "flock" - since I have NO desire whatsoever, in any of those roles, to "build a following" in the classic sense of the term "flock" - so I am using it much more loosely in the application I use for myself.  It simply has registered more deeply than ever before, over the course of this past month leading up to this month's resolution, that all of us who are members of the LDS Church and have committed to take His name upon us and act as His disciples in our day can share in His shepherding role to some degree and, by so doing, reduce the heavy burdens Bishops (and Branch Presidents) must bear by taking responsibility for those parts of a typical Bishop's burden that he doesn't have to bear strictly by virtue of his calling.

Being a counselor/confidante for others is one such way in which I believe I can help to lessen or remove an unnecessary burden - and, in the process, help build Zion in a very real and practical way.

God bless the Bishops (and Branch Presidents) of the Church - and God bless each of us to do what we can to love, listen to, counsel with and serve the sheep better (especially those who are uncertain or doubt) so Bishops can focus on protecting them more easily and not be put in positions where they must mitigate their own counseling in order to continue to protect and judge.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Finding Your Blessed Abnormality

I understand the need for organizational conformity with regard to certain things, but I absolutely LOVE the concept that nobody is "normal" - and that part of fulfilling the measure of MY own, individual creation is finding where I have a "blessed abnormality" and magnifying it.

I really believe each and every one of us can accomplish **something** unique in this life - and I believe part of why we are alive is to find and accomplish that unique aspect of our own individual creation.

Harvard explains its objective as working to admit and create "well-lopsided" students - meaning students who can follow any non-technical discussion about any topic but who understand one topic deeply. It is a recognition educationally of this concept - that everyone is unique in some way, and part of being truly educated is finding and magnifying one's uniqueness. I believe in the spiritual manifestation of that concept as much as I believe in the educational effort.