Wednesday, February 29, 2012

10 Things about the LDS Church and the Gospel for which I Am Thankful

Not in order of importance:

1) What I call “pure Mormonism”. I’ve never found anything as mind-blowingly awesome, and I’ve been exposed to just about everything imaginable.

2) The concept of eternal unity. Being married to your “split-apart” is wonderful, but the belief that we will not be split apart again is even better.

3) The Word of Wisdom’s clear warning about addiction peddlers in the latter days. The rest can be debated ad infinitum; the focus is prophetic to the core.

4) Our own family’s Christmas star experience. (Sorry, no details here.) God truly does know the major events of our lives before they unfold.

5) Our children, both biological and otherwise.

6) My parents. (I have shared the story of my father’s sacrifice for my mother, and I can’t express adequately my thanks for that legacy that is uniquely Mormon.)

7) Some very difficult challenges that only make sense in hindsight; hence, the concept of enduring to the end.

8 ) The chance now to wake up each morning excited to go to work. (While my work is not LDS-related, getting here to it absolutely was – in a weird way.)

9) The chance to teach Seminary to our daughters in our home – and the secondary effect on our younger daughters. 

10) The fellowship of the Saints, flawed though it may be - which includes all of you who read my thoughts here.

Just wondering: For what things about the LDS Church are you grateful?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Problem with Worrying

Just something to consider:

Most of our pain comes from actual experiences, but much of our emotional pain and stress often is caused by worrying about things that never come to pass.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

On Being Accountable: or, I Don't Believe in "The Final Judgment"

I have written about accountability as my New Year's Resolution focus this month, but it struck me this week that I have not written about how I view accountability at the most basic, fundamental level - of how I understand the concept of being punished for our own sins and not for Adam's transgression.  I hinted at it in my first post this month, but, with my cross-country move and limited time, I have not written my typical "topic intro post" this month. 

This is that post.

The whole doctrine of accountability is one of the most beautiful in Mormonism, in my opinion. It is so much more expansive than most people realize.

This week, I want to describe three fundamental aspects of accountability as I understand them - within the framework of our 2nd Article of Faith: 

1) As I wrote in a post last year, we understand the concept of accountability as it relates to the "extremes" (children and the mentally handicapped on one end; fully accountable adults on the other end), but we often overlook it when dealing with the "emotionally handicapped" and the "abused" and any others whose thoughts and actions are influenced by things they didn't choose - things often outside their full control. We are learning more and more about how to treat these things, but I believe there are still so many manifestations of these types of issues that we haven't even identified completely that "Judge not" becomes an even more vital command.
I am convinced to the core of my soul, that many people who struggle mightily with feelings of guilt and despair do so largely because they are wired biologically to do so - that they simply can't help it. I believe strongly that those people are not "accountable" for their actions during those times of guilt and despair in quite the same way as others are without those episodes. I'm not saying that they are completely free from the responsibility to understand their conditions and try to "repent" (meaning simply "change"), but I am saying that "repentance" in these cases often is more about learning coping mechanisms or taking medication than it is about the classic "exercise of will" often associated with repentance.

If we understood more fully that "repentance" is a positive thing - a process that includes almost anything that helps us become "righteous" (in harmony with God), I believe we could begin to tackle the "natural" guilt associated with depression and other issues in a much more productive and ennobling manner than we tend to do currently. 

2) Given my belief that ALL of us are "handicapped / disabled" to some degree as a direct result of our mortality (as a result of Adam's transgression), and given my belief that most of us don't understand some or most of our own disabilities, I believe it is important to do our best without imposing debilitating self-judgment - and to give that same consideration to others, whose disabilities we generally know no better than we know our own. This is a central aspect of charity, in my opinion - since it recognizes the lack of clarity in our natural judgments (that we "see through a glass, darkly") and refuses to judge others (and ourselves) as if we could see with perfect clarity

3) With that as the foundation, coupled with Mormonism's view of eternal progression, I view judgment itself quite differently than many people. 

When Jesus said that we will be judged with the same judgment we judge, I interpret that to mean that how we judge (how we create our perceptions of ourselves and others) molds and shapes who we become.  In other words, at the most fundamental, basic level, we act according to how we see ourselves and others - which means that, truly, we can be known by our "fruits" (what we produce).  Therefore, if we want to change our actions, we first must change our view / perspective / framework of judgment.  We must SEE differently - which is why the definition of repentance in our Bible Dictionary begins with the statement that repentance is all about "a fresh view".  (I wrote about this specifically four years ago: "A Fresh View of Repentance".) 

This relates to accountability and the "Final Judgment" in a very simple way:

We speak of Jesus as the Judge, but we also speak of him as our Advocate with the Father.  We literally speak of him as both lawyer AND judge.  I accept this, but I view those roles much more symbolically (or as a "one-time act") than literally - at least, more so than most people view them.  I don't believe in a literal "bar of judgment" before which every act of our lives will be played out or presented vocally, with a "judgment" being "pronounced" verbally.  Rather, I believe Jesus' atonement provides the "bridge", if you will, to a judgment that is much more "organic", "natural", "internal" in nature.  I believe we will be our own judges, if you will - in that Jesus' atonement abolishes the standard structure of judgment by others and provides the power directly to us to become whatever we will become.  I believe we will "be judged" not specifically by what we believe and do but, rather, by what we become as a result of our beliefs and actions.  I know that is splitting hairs to a degree, but I believe it is important to split those hairs, since I believe recognizing our own responsibility to "be" is the heart of understanding acountability in its fullest, deepest sense. 

In conclusion, a word of caution that points back to my first two points:

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within us. 

In a very real way, I don't believe in a "Final Judgment" in the traditional sense - but that is because I believe in "ongoing judgment" that simply, at some point far into the eternal future, will "end" when we reach the point where we have progressed as far as we, as individuals, are capable of progressing.  I believe my own "judgment" is happening every moment of my life, since every moment of my life is shaping my current "I AM".  I am accountable to be whoever I can be, while the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows me to become who I can't become on my own by removing the constraints of time and mortal judgment.  

I love that concept, since it allows me to focus on BEING without undue, unrealistic, unclear, debilitating expectations.  It really isn't about the speed of my progression or the exact location of my current steps; rather, it is all about the direction I am facing and my determination to "endure to the end" - at which point I will be made into what I hope to become, despite the distance between what I am at any point in the here and now and what I desire to be in the there and then.  To say it differently, I believe Jesus' Atonement / God's grace is nothing more than the manifestation of their eternal patience in extending infinitely the day of final judgment in such a way that all who truly desire to be like they are will be allowed that greatest blessing. 

That, to me, is true charity - the heart of "Christ-like love" as it is described in 1 Corinthians 13. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Different Way to Define Zion: Unity Despite Differences

To follow-up on my last post

If there must needs be opposition in ALL things, that would include Zion.  How can that be?  

In the third verse of the entire Book of Mormon, in introducing his record, Nephi says:

"And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge."

Jacob follows that later in Jacob 7:26 with:

"wherefore, I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge"

In Mormon 9:32. Moroni says:

"And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge"

Finally, Mormon sums up his abridgment by describing it in Mormon 8:12 with the phrase:

"the imperfections which are in it"

Every one of these verses relates "truth" directly to what each person "knows" individually. In other words, the "truth" is critical to each and every person, but it also is defined by each and every person according to "the best of (my) knowledge." To say it differently, every one of these passages speaks of "knowledge" through the lens of personal experience - not as some academic, intellectually-defined, universal, "perfect" or absolute standard.

My take away from these verses is simple:

Being absolutely certain that we know universal Truth isn't critical for everyone, is destructive for many and important for others. So be it. I'm in the first category, but that doesn't make me any better or worse automatically than someone in the last category. I also have no right to shatter someone's certainty if that certainty is crucial to their peace of mind and well-being. That's just selfish. However, finding something in which I as an individual can believe as truth "according to my own knowledge" is absolutely critical to my happiness, peace and well-being - and I think that's true for every single person who lives on this earth.

I can't live my life "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine". I need to have something to which I can cling during the storms of my life - something that can provide the safety and security of a kite-string while I let my kite fly anywhere I want to explore. I might not be "absolutely certain" of much on a universal level, but it's vital that there be some foundational things that I personally, for myself, independently can say I "know for myself" - that is "true" for me.

My own conviction is that there is PLENTY of room in the LDS Church for people whose "personal knowledge" varies radically, as long as there is a common desire to understand, progress, journey, grow, search, believe, etc. For me, it's MUCH more about accepting on-going and personal revelation than it is about agreeing on every point of current doctrine. Coming to grips with that paradox (the need for an element of unity within a broad diversity of personal perspective) is what I see as the core definition of "Zion" - people who are very different in many ways overlooking those differences and uniting anyway. I've seen it happen at multiple levels, so "according to my knowledge" I can state it is possible.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Some Things I "Know" - and What "I Know" Means to Me

I think people only can "know" their own experiences.

This is why I am comfortable with the following statements from anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, among others:

"I know that God lives and loves me."

"I know that our situations and circumstances are known to and understood by God."

"I know that there is great joy and peace that comes from striving to acquire the characteristics of godliness found in our scriptures."

"I know we are blessed when we serve others - especially when we do so with no expectation of reward other than what comes into our hearts."

There are lots of things I "believe" - but there also are lots of things that my own, personal experiences have taught me in ways that are undeniable to me. I'm fine saying I "know" these things - especially since I agree we "know" (for ourselves) those things we experience and internalize.

Finally, since I reserve the right to define terms according to what makes sense for me, I have NO problem with others doing the same - even when how they define things differs from how I define them. As I've said here previously, if I want that consideration from others, I really should be willing to grant them the same consideration. If someone feels comfortable saying they "know" certain things (almost always based on their own experiences), who am I to say they are wrong? I don't want to carry the burden of judging others that way, so I don't.

Of course, that means I and someone else can "know" opposite things - but that's ok. Chances are, neither of us is 100% correct - so what does it hurt me to be charitable in this way? Nothing.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Commandments and Constraints within the Church and the Gospel: Sexual Activities as an Example

I believe we should strive to keep every commandment we believe is "valid" - every commandment that we feel can be attributed to God / inspiration / revelation. I just think we have to be VERY careful never to equate that with every commandment we like naturally. Without commandments that require we do what we don't want to do naturally, we would experience no growth and change. To me, the concept of an Atonement / grace that bridges the gap between what we want to do / become and what we actually are able to do / become is the key - as long as it doesn't rob us of the motivation to change. In many ways, commandments and constraints are what we make of them - but I don't believe in constraints just for the sake of constraint. I also don't believe everything that many people frame as commands actually originated from God as universal command - and that's an incredibly important principle for me. 

A good example of this is sexual activity. It is powerful - both sublime and terrible - binding and destructive. It is what we make of it. 

I have no problem with some general constraints on such activity within the Church and the Gospel (no problem with the principle of a Law of Chastity), particularly in our current society that leans toward no restrictions and, as a result, is full of really, really, really, really messed up people and destroyed relationships. On the other hand, I am saddened by the general insistence on treating discussions of sexual activity as taboo - on promulgating a prudish, Victorian attitude that is nearly as destructive as promiscuity. I also am discouraged by our general insistence on simplifying such a complicated, far-reaching issue into a binary, black-and-white view that misses so often the complexity of the scientific reality.  Human sexuality is something we still understand only partially, and, while I believe our theology has the power to encompass so much that we still don't understand fully, I believe we haven't touched the surface of that power in many cases relative to this topic. 

At the most basic level, I think we simply have to remember that we are not a collection of homogenous individuals - that the best standards for communities and societies are not the same as the best standards for some individuals (especially those who are "different" in some way) - that communal standards tend to center around acceptable minimums for the majority (and often radically misunderstand multiple minorities) - that what is not destructive for some persons often is destructive for other persons and/or the collective people as a whole. It cuts both ways, and, unfortunately, it's really hard to implement commands and constraints throughout societies that don't end up cutting portions of those societies in real, painful, "unfair" ways.  It's important to remember that, even in cases where it doesn't change anything in practical terms.

People are complicated, and we do each other a grave disservice, in my opinion, whenever we try to categorize everyone in a strict binary system where only two options exist - or, in many cases, only one. We must have communal constraints, but we also must have the ability in most situations to accept individual exceptions to those constraints. After all, we as Mormons have a long history of wanting others to allow us to be a peculiar people; we can't expect that, however, if we don't allow all (wo)men everywhere the same privilege - if we end up exercising unrighteous dominion in our zeal to promote the commands and constraints we accept for ourselves. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Made It - and, of Course, the First Thing I Do Is Blog: Unexpected Blessings

I left NE Missouri Wednesday morning.  I arrived in Carson City, NV at 10:00AM Friday morning - a 2,034 mile drive in two days.  Surprisingly, I'm wide awake - and sitting in a library typing this post.  (Yeah, I know.  What's the first thing I do when I arrive in a new town?  BLOG!!  *grin*)  Due to the nature of this post, I'm dating it for tomorrow (Saturday) and writing it as my New Year's Resolution Post about accountability. 

I posted Thursday about enduring to the end - and about the blessing of being able to look back on one's life and reognize blessings in hindsight.  I mentioned that, sometimes, those blessings can be seen immediately, and I need to write about one such immediate recognition while it still is fresh. 

All other stresses aside, the most stress-inducing aspect of this move is financial - since the raise I am receiving might not offset the higher cost of living (primarily housing, but also the extra gas I will use commuting 50 miles round-trip per day - as opposed to 3 miles per day in my last job).  I am confident Mama will be able to earn more here than she has been able to make in Canton, and the lack of state tax in Nevada will help, but I still have been concerned - even as I know, without doubt, that we are supposed to be here in Carson City at this time. 

This week has brought something into stark focus, and there are three "coincidences" that combined to slap me upside the head and make me realize once again that we are loved and within the watchful care of a loving Father. 

1) Mama completed her certification process to become a Certified Medical Technician (CMT) last week.  Not only does it come with a small payraise, but it also puts her in a position of working one extra shift each week.  That will have its own issues, including sleep and the inability to teach Seminary as often as she could in the past, but it also will add roughly 50% to her pay checks.  It's not a lot, but it will help tremendously for the time while I am in Carson City and she and our family remain in Canton.  The timing literally couldn't have been better. 

She also received a strong letter of recommendation from the Asst Dir of Nursing where she works - and I took a copy of it with me to try to line up a job for her that will start immediately upon her arrival (or very quickly). 

How does this relate to accountability? 

She was chosen for the CMT training and received the letter of recommendation largely because of her dedication over the past two years.  She has not missed a day of work in that time, has filled in fairly often for others who have missed shifts and, in every measurable and intangible way, been a model employee.  In other words, she has been herself - and it has brought blessings of multiple sorts.  Most importantly for this post, her actions and attitude over the past two years created a situation where she could be blessed exactly in the way that our family needs the most right now. 

2) As I was preparing to travel cross-country to begin my new job, I did what I have done every time we have moved in the past (five times, with four of those being over 1,000 miles) - called the Bishop of the LDS ward (or another member, in one case) to which we were moving and informed him of our impending move.  In this case, as in one of the previous moves, we looked at the possible locations and prayed for inspiration as to which Bishop (of several) we should contact.  This is second-nature to us, so it doesn't stand out as anything "special" in any way - but, for the second time in such a situation, I can see very clearly the fact that inspiration indeed was given - that we were led to contact the right Bishop. 

How does this relate to accountability?

As I said, we didn't have to think about what to do (or whether or not to contact the Bishop).  It's a decision we made long ago, so it has become automatic for us.  As with Mama's attendance and work ethic, the result of that long-ago decision has been a blessing once again - but we would not have received the blessing without the years of "doing" what we committed to do.  It's easy for me to think of it as automatic or simple - but it really is the result of a decision made long ago.  In this way, we have chosen to be "agents unto ourselves" (in both a spiritual AND practical manner) - and that choice to be accountable for our actions has given great blessings. 

In particular, with regard to this move:

3) Our new Bishop is a good man.  I have spoken with him and conversed via text multiple times in the past week.  I have explained our situation to the best of my ability, and he has prayed about what to do as our ecclesiastical leader.  What I am about to share illustrates the effect I see of our sincere, prayerful collaboration, if you will - and it also illustrates how well our Father in Heaven knows us. 

I left Canton Wednesday morning, fully intending to take it relatively easy and arrive in Carson City Saturday evening.  As evening came on Wednesday, I had made good time and talked with Mama to see where the best place to stop would be.  I picked a city and hotel - then spent the next few hours racked with indecision about that choice.  I actually stopped where I had intended to stop, but I couldn't bring myself to check into the hotel - so I lay down in my car and napped for an hour.  Upon waking up, I felt compelled to continue to drive - and this repeated itself two more times that night.  I ended up stopping nearly two hundred miles further along than I had planned - and checking into a motel at about 2:00AM Thursday morning. 

I woke up and left after a relatively short time asleep - awakened by a phone call from one of my daughters and a text message from a former co-worker - and the text was delayed in delivery considerably.  Therefore, I left earlier that morning than I had intended - and, a few hours later, received the phone call that was the primary catalyst for this post. 

Our new Bishop called to tell me that he felt strongly that while I was alone in Carson City I should stay in a situation where I could be as independent as possible - that I shouldn't look for a room to rent cheaply with someone else.  Therefore, he had looked around town this week and found an available kitchenette for me - and he told me he would make sure I could afford to live there until my family joined me this summer.  (We will work out the details when I'm settled into my new job and can formulate a real budget.)  The kicker was that he asked me if there was any way I would be able to make it to town before 5:00PM Friday - knowing I had been planning on arriving late Saturday.  If so, the inn would guarantee the room for me; if not, it wouldn't be a certainty. 

I now know why I felt so driven (pun intended - sorry) to continue driving long into the night on Wednesday - and why I was awakened so early Thursday morning - and why I was able to drive so far yesterday without any undue fatigue.  Surely, the Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. 

How does this relate to accountability?

In two ways:

a) Our new Bishop called our current Bishop.  Our current Bishop told our new Bishop that we had continued to serve as faithfully as we could, given our location and limited finances - and that alone gave our new Bishop the assurance he needed to "go the extra mile" in his prayers and efforts on our behalf.  I know we aren't unique in any way in that regard - that we aren't any "more faithful" than lots of others in any way, but I also know our decision long ago to be actively involved in the kingdom has blessed us in our current situation. 

b) I have tried hard over the years to foster a prayer in my heart at all times - to try to be aware of any promptings I receive and act on them.  I've not been successful all the time, but I have tried.  I know the fact that I felt compelled to continue to drive and shorten the number of days on the road was a direct result of that effort over the years - especially since it wasn't obvious or even recognizable at the time. 

I want to end this post with a simple plea to anyone who reads it:

Do what is right; follow your conscience (no matter what); strive to keep an open heart and mind; let the consequence follow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Can We Expect, Realistically, From Our Leaders?

That they try their hardest. Period.  End of answer.  

I believe that, generally, those who are called as leaders are inspired more often than not, but I believe that's because they are sincere and try to seek inspiration. At the root, however, all I expect is their best effort - since that's all I can promise when I'm on the receiving end of the expectations.

After all, in the LDS Church, our leaders are us.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Real Blessing of Enduring to the End

The following is an exchange I had once with a friend. 

My initial message to him:

I have found that most of the recognition of great blessings for me has occurred when I have been able to look back at my life and realize where I am compared to where I was previously. I believe in "enduring to the end" in a different way than most, probably, as I see it as the only way to see the height climbed - when I get to a vista and can look back on the beauty of my life. If I don't endure the climb, I don't get to see those vistas - and I don't realize how blessed I've been.

Don't get me wrong. Sometimes, I have experienced blessings quickly - even immediately. However, the most breathtaking blessings have been hidden by my myopia and only have come into view with some distance.  

His response:

So do you credit God for providing the view to you personally or is it that you are grateful you have climbed high enough to see what is already there, waiting to be viewed by those who ascend to your level? By that, I mean...the former is more evidence of God's intervention in your personal situation, and the latter is still evidence of God's love for you but with less direct intervention (as I see it).

My response to him:

It is both for me.

It's not so much others "ascending to my level" as much as it is pausing to look back occasionally and realizing the blessings that are visible only as an accumulation of otherwise invisible blessings - seeing the beauty of the forest by stepping outside the cover of the trees.

Some blessings have been obvious and immediate; most have not - and some of the most obvious have not been immediate. Two, in particular, took multiple years to occur and be recognizable as blessings. If I had not "endured to the end", in a sense, I would never have experienced or recognized those particular blessings - which really are two of the most astounding manifestations of God's existence and love I have experienced.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Teaching Children About the Scriptures: Literal or Figurative?

I teach my children that much I believe of scripture is literal and much is figurative / allegorical / mythological - and that each and every one of us needs to figure out how we are going to make those distinctions - and that different distinctions are fine, as long as they are carefully considered and personally owned but open to alteration. I tell them that BOTH extremes (totally literal and totally figurative) are the easy way out - that it's trying to figure out an acceptable middle ground that is hard. I also tell them, however, that it's only in the difficult things in life that real growth occurs - and it's only in making those distinctions that PERSONAL revelation occurs.

Think about that a little more deeply:

In my opinion, NEITHER extreme involves personal revelation, since EITHER extreme merely is shutting down intellectually and defaulting to a no-conflict setting. I believe reality almost always lies somewhere in the middle of the "opposition in all things" - which is how I have come to see EVERY volume of scripture in our own canon AND most of the holy writings of other religions. That's why I believe "as far as it is translated correctly" applies just as much to each and every one of us as we "translate" what we read as it does to those who have translated our scriptures over time. 

Finally, I think kids should read the scriptures even if only to understand how other people viewed their relationship with God. There is great power in that alone - especially if it motivates them to try to articulate their own view of that relationship for themselves.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Punished for Our Own (Chosen Actions): Reflections As I Start a New Job

As I contemplated how to frame my New Year's Resolution for this month ("Individual Accountability" as it relates to the 2nd Article of Faith), it hit me that my current employment situation has direct application to my resolution.  That thought reinforced something I wrote way back when I first started making and writing about my New Year's Resolution structure - that "our Father in Heaven knows us better than we realize" - that sometimes we receive subtle clues that show us how inspiration can come in ways that are unrecognizable as such at the time - things that we chalk up as "good ideas" that "I had" but that, upon reflection, obviously came from outside ourselves.  In this case, there is a parallel between the idea of being redeemed from the effects of those things we did not choose (more about that in my post next weekend) and only being "punished" for those things we consciously choose (or, as  I will explain next weekend, "by" those things).  For now, this weekend, I only want to make two simple points about accountability and my new job. 

1) I felt strongly leading up to the offer I accepted that I should NOT accept a job offer just in order to leave the job I had.  Rather, I felt strongly that I should accept an offer ONLY if it was for a position I really wanted - one that I felt was "the right one" at this time.  What came to my mind was that I could not let myself make a decision that would constitute "being acted upon" (letting frustrations and other factors "push" me into a decision) but, instead, that I needed to be sure I was acting in such a way that I was being "an agent unto myself".  The thought that hit me this week as I prepared to leave my job (yesterday) was that I needed to accept accountability for my decision, since it was something over which I had control - something that was not happening outside my own sphere of personal choice.  I wasn't being fired or pressured to leave; I chose to do so.  Therefore, no matter what happens in my new job, I can't blame anyone for it.  The responsibility is mine and mine alone, in the sense that it is something I chose - willingly and intentionally.

The accompanying realization is that I, therefore, am responsible for making it be successful - that I must learn how to do so and then do so.

2) The second aspect of accountability as it relates to the 2nd Article of Faith is that I am taking with me the person I have become over the nearly three years I worked in the position I just left.  Yes, there were influences throughout that time that were outside my control (especially in the beginning, when I was unaware of some serious political pressures and maneuvering that had a large impact on my first few months there), but I am, today, a creation of the past three years - and what I am able to accomplish in my new job will be influenced greatly by what I did and who I became in my old job.

In that sense, I am being "punished" and "rewarded" by myself - and that will be the focus of my New Year's Resolution post next weekend - assuming I arrive in Carson City early enough to write it.

(I am driving across the country next week, so I hope I will make good enough time to be there and settled into wherever I will be staying for the first few months with enough time to spare.  Wish me luck!)

Friday, February 10, 2012

For All Have Sinned and Come Short of the Glory of God

 Someone once told me the following:

When we view others as sinners, we subconsciously avoid them.

I know the following is saying the same things ultimately, but I would change the above quote to say:

We avoid others when we stop seeing ourselves as sinners.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Others Generally See Me As I See Myself

Someone once asked me how others at church see me, since I'm kind of hard to pin down and categorize online.  The following was my response: 

Most people don't see me as crazy, because I don't rant and challenge and act crazy. I act like a fully-believing member (which I am, just on my own terms), so they see me as such. I'm calm and usually gentle and smile all the time and am happy and act in a friendly manner, so that's how they see me. I'm not a threat in any way to anyone at church, so they don't see me as one.

I really do think that others tend to see us as we see ourselves - and the real issue is that the manner in which they view themselves reacts to and interacts with how I see myself. To some who are insecure, my confidence can come across as arrogance; to those who are assured of something different than I am (and whose assurance depends on not being challenged by a different assurance), I can come across as a foe - but that almost never happens at church, since our foundation assurance is the same; to others who are insecure (and especially who feel unloved or lonely), my smiles and hugs make them gravitate to me for more of that; etc.; etc.; etc.

Too few people really understand exactly how much power we can have over the perceptions of others, and too many people blame others for how they are perceived and treated. Do we have total control over these things? Absolutely not. Should we have total control in this regard? Absolutely not. Do we have the ultimate responsibility for how we are viewed and treated **generally**? Yes, in my opinion.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Experience God More Regularly

I have found that the best way for me to experience God is to become more like I want Him to be. 

When I am focused on repenting (meaning only changing in a positive manner), that is when I feel a sense of God the most strongly on an on-going basis.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Story that Broke My Heart - and Why

The second link to a thought-provoking article I posted here on my blog (way back in September 2007) was one that hit me really hard when I first read it.  It is about life in Africa and the practical application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I decided to re-post it now, since I wasn't able to work on my New Year's Resolution post this week.  I am providing the link and then my own commentary on what hit me so hard when I first read it. 

Little Street Vendor - Wilfried Decoo

I do not mean to call the teacher a Pharisee. I am much less bothered by the “buying something on Sunday” aspect as I was by this thought:
“We shouldn’t chase that vendor away, but if you don’t buy from her, SHE WON’T COME BACK.”

Those last four words are what broke my heart.

Not buying from her is one thing; not putting our arms around her and not talking with her and not thinking that perhaps God inspired a choice daughter to take up a post at our church and not inviting her into our fellowship but, instead, truly chasing her away - that breaks my heart. I want her there - where she is relatively safe, where she at least can hear that she is a child of God, where she can rest with faith that families with children of their own (relatively well-dressed, clean, happy children) will understand her plight the best they can and have pity on her, etc. Taking that away from her - that breaks my heart. She’s not an object lesson for Sabbath Day observance; she’s a daughter of God and my spiritual sister - and using her as the first instead of treating her as the second broke my heart.

I understand the overwhelming nature of poverty in Africa and the hesitancy to do anything that might encourage hundreds of poor vendors to flock to the Church, but I have a feeling that the astute businesswoman in that little girl would have recognized the benefit of keeping her spot hidden from competition. I wonder if anyone sat down with her and just talked with her about her life, about the Gospel, about the Restoration, about her divine nature as a daughter of God. Whether or not anyone gave her money or bought something from her, did anyone take the time just to love her and listen to her. Wonder of wonders, she can read!  I wonder if anyone even thought to give her a Book of Mormon or something else to engage her mind. 

Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these . . .” couldn’t find a more perfect application than this little street vendor - and would we really want to ignore Him, so He won't come back? .

Friday, February 3, 2012

How I View the Temple Endowment

The easiest way for me to think of "the endowment" is as a gift that allows people to experience a radical shift in perspective - but that only can be accomplished, in my opinion, if people learn to see the presentation of the endowment figuratively and symbolically. I like to phrase it in terms of a grand morality play - with a model of casting that allows each and every participant to be the central actor in the play and incredible screenwriting that allows ME to improvise and roam around the stage each time it plays out around me.

I can't really explain that adequately, but I liken it to Nephi asking about his father's vision and getting transported mentally / spiritually into his own vision that, really, was RADICALLY different than Lehi's. He wanted to understand the things of God, but he conflated that with the things of Lehi's experience with God - so the Lord showed him something totally different that was his own experience with God.

When I sit in an endowment session, my "focus" is on what God will show me for the next couple of hours. The atmosphere / setting / imagery / etc. of the "play" puts me in the mood to open my mind and heart and "reach out" for what is floating around me at the moment. I don't really listen much to the actual words of the presentation anymore; rather, I send out feelers and see what gift I am given that day - what understanding with which I am endowed during that short time.

I'm not trying to memorize words anymore, like I did when I was younger.

I'm trying to experience God.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Random Thoughts on Racism in the LDS Church

As many of you know, I have written farily extensively about racism - especially given my experience helping to raise and house a couple of black young men.  The following are just some random thoughts that crossed my mind as I thought again about this topic:

1) Unfortunately, judging people who are different as inferior is one of the most deeply ingrained "natural (wo)man" tendencies in existence. It has always been so, and it is so deeply ingrained that it is extremely hard to recognize, much less root out.

2) One of my oldest son's favorite songs is called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" - by Avenue Q. [There is a bit of language that some might find offensive in the clip I'm linking, so decide whether or not you want to watch it. (] It's pretty instructive, imo.

3) As someone who has housed and helped raise more than one young black man in a predominantly white area, I think I understand the overall issue as well as a middle-aged white man can. My own experience with racism saddens me deeply, but it has helped me understand and gain charity as much as any other topic has. I also think the LDS Church is far more progressive right now in terms of racial practices than most people recognize - and much more than the vast majority of still-segregated Protestant churches I observed when I lived in the Deep South.

4) The last part of #3 really is a truly amazing paradox. We still have a ways to go - and a LONG way for some individual members, but, institutionally, we have come much further than many realize.