Monday, April 30, 2012

Charity Simply is Pure Intent

A couple of years ago, I was discussing charity with a friend, and she said something I want to share: 

Charity is about intention, in my humble opinion.Suffering more in kindness, therefore, is an act of charity with the purest of intentions: no expectations.
Using that as the framework, envy is breaking the emotional health, the pure intention. It comes with baggage: expectations. "Why am I not as 'blessed' as he is?"
Again, if the charity is pure, the intention pure, the expectation is non-existent. Thus, there could be no envy, for, without expectation, there is nothing to "compare and contrast". It all simply is what it is.
Pure, unconditional love will indeed suffer more in kindness. And, that kindness will extend to all, both directly and indirectly. Without external expectations, or internal expectations for that matter, there is no scoreboard, no "what have you done for me lately".
It's simply pure intent.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Sacrament Meeting Talk Today about "The Creation"

Since I had to take my oldest daughter to Utah yesterday and return to Carson City in time to speak in church tomorrow (a round trip of just over 1,100 miles in a total of 28 hours), I didn't write my normal weekend New Year's Resolution Post.  Instead, I am posting the outline of my talk tomorrow about "The Creation".  (I joked that I was going to guarantee never being asked to speak in my new ward again by talking exclusively about evolution and procreation [making babies], but I decided not to do that.  My wife was pleased with that decision.)

I almost always write my talks in concept outline form, think about the outline up until I give the talk, jot down any specific thoughts that hit me while I'm sitting on the stand and then speak about each item in the outline in the talk itself.  Therefore, what I am posting now is the outline I will be using.  I'm not sure if I will be able to come back and edit to add whatever detail ends up making it into my actual talk, but I would love to hear what any of you would add as detail with regard to any or all of the outline items. 

"The Purpose (the Why) of Creation"

1) Intro disclaimer about Science and the "How" of creation - simply to emphasize that I will be talking about the "Why" of creation (the purpose)

2) Define "create" and "creation" - focusing on synonyms in our scriptures that are used in the various accounts ("form", "make", "organize", etc.) -- Discuss concept of "ex nihilo" creation (creating something out of nothing) and how the Mormon view of creation is radically different, in that it is much more about "changing" an existing something and turning it into something else -- explain it as a "creative process" rather than a one-time action -- emphasize the organization of the chaotic into something that was changed in such a way that "it was good".

3) Discuss the order of creation in our scriptures (first spiritual, then physical) and the importance of that order when it comes to the purpose of "The Creation".

4) Quote Moses 1:39 and discuss how God's work and glory are fulfilled through "The Creation" - how the Plan of Salvation is actualized only through multiple creative processes.

5) Quote the verses in Malachi and D&C 2 regarding the spirit of Elijah and explain the meaning of the earth (The Creation) being "wasted" without the creation of a sealing bond across time and all eternity.

6) Discuss the principles and ordinances of the Gospel as the parameters of creation's purpose: faith in the purpose of the creation (an at-one-ment) and repentance (transformative change) as the fulfillment of the purpose - with baptism as an outward symbol of that faith and desired repentance, the Holy Ghost as the guiding light toward the process of repentance and enduring to the end as the patience to continue throughout the divine creative process.  Compare that process to the creation of the world - as organizing something good out of former disorganization and even chaos.

7) Discuss the concept of being temples - and how that relates to allowing god to build / create us in such a way that it can be said of us that the kingdom of God is within / among us.

8) Explain Matthew 5:48 in terms of being an progressive creation and becoming a finished, completed, wholly developed "new creature in Christ". 

9) Reiterate Moses 1:39 and the stated purpose of creation - NOT to build an assembly line of robots but rather to take caterpillars and turn them into a myriad of uniquely beautiful butterflies.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Are "The Basics" of Mormonism?

I believe God speaks to us (or we hear and/or feel God) in our own language according to our own understanding. I believe Christianity (and Buddhism and Islam and Shintoism and Judaism ad infinitum) are necessary simply because they are expressions of what has resonated with millions of people. They are inevitable. They simply "are". (Just like my favorite name for God: "I AM".)

Fighting the inevitable is something I've chosen not to do. Rather, I construct my own view of God within the broad parameters of what resonates for me (Christianity) - and the saving grace of Mormonism is that I am able to incorporate ANY good I find ANYWHERE into what I view as pure Mormonism.

I like something from Buddhism?  I want to think of Nirvana as an expression of the Celestial Kingdom? Fine.

I want to view Mother Theresa as a model of love and a saint in every sense of the word and picture meeting her in Heaven? Fine.

I want to disregard some of the best efforts of former prophets in any religion (anciently and in modern times) to make sense of the world around them? Fine.

I want to share many common beliefs with those who worship with me weekly but have many unique ones? Fine.

Mormonism allows that, even if some members and congregations fight it.

To me, that is "the basics" - that I personally must work out my own understanding of salvation and exaltation and exercise faith that God will not punish me for my best efforts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Redeeming Our Ancestors (and Others) through Our Actions in This Life

A friend of mine once said:

The Old Testament says Yahweh will visit the sins of the fathers on their children unto the third and the fourth generation. But if we arise and atone, we redeem the fathers from that curse.  

I know that part of who I am is inherited from those who came before me - my ancestors. Thus, what I do is (in part) a result of what they did. Thus, they are partially responsible for me. Thus, one of the ways I can "redeem" them is to act in such a way that their actions (in helping to create me) result in good through me. Thus, I must be willing to overlook and "forgive" the ruinous elements of what they gave me while recognizing and maximizing the goodness they left for and in me. Thus, as I look at my own descendants, I hope they can take what I leave for them (take what I gave to them in helping to create them), be charitable in how they view me and have the ultimate result be good through them.

In popular terms, this is like "leave the world a better place than it was when you arrived" - but it adds a personal element of gratitude for our ancestors' role in making it possible for us to do that and a humility to hope that our own descendants will be charitable in how they view our efforts and strive to "redeem" us in the exact same way - by making our lives ultimately meaningful on a scale larger and more lasting than just what we lived on our own in mortality.

If you take this concept and insert "Joseph Smith" or "Brigham Young" or anyone else in my communal heritage, the same concept applies. It's an interesting exercise, and I recommend everyone go ahead and do it. Re-read the first two paragraphs with the suggested change, then do it again and insert anyone from your personal or communal past instead of "ancestors".

Did you have an abusive parent - a mean teacher - a petty Home Teacher - an unsympathetic Bishop? Try inserting their name. Do you have someone now who will need to be "redeemed" in the future by someone else - perhaps your own descendants? Try inserting their name.

Reaching this general attitude has freed me from SO much stress and potential anger and bitterness and wasted energy. It's one aspect of how I personally view the term "Saviors on Mount Zion" - those who lose their own lives, in a sense, in an effort to "redeem the world". I also have no problem applying that term to anyone, anywhere - like Mother Theresa or the Assemblies of God missionary I met years ago who helps establish safe houses for girls in third world countries who desperately need them. I believe they are "redeeming the dead" in a very important, powerful way. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Zion Is Not When Everyone Plays the Same Instrument and the Same Melody

As many of you know, one of my favorite General Conference talks of all time is Elder Joseph Wirthlin's "Concern for the One" - given four years ago in April 2008.  It included an analogy that is one of the best, most beautiful I have heard:

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

I need to be comfortable enough with my own saxophone that I can play joyfully amid the piccolos - even if the oboes take a break for a while and leave me playing a solitary harmony that might not even be heard by the piccolos.

I also must be fine if the only sound that I can hear temporarily is the sound of those piccolos - recognizing that they also contribute to the full sound of the orchestra.  Every once in a while, they might be a bit too shrill, but I still must recognize the need for their sound and learn to appreciate it and accept it as an integral part of the symphony in which I am playing.  The aim, in my opinion, is not to weaken the piccolo section but to strengthen the other sections around them. 

I must care for others enough to continue to play and strive to make the orchestra's harmony richer and fuller, but not be bothered if, at any given moment or even for an extended period of time, my harmony sounds a bit jarring because the clarinets and tubas have stopped playing around me.  I also can't blare my saxophone in an attempt to be heard disproportionately to my representation within the orchestra, since an instrument played too loudly never adds beauty to the orchestral sound but, rather, only drowns out the beauty that is possible with a more "charitable" and harmonious approach.

Zion is not when all people play the same instrument and the same melody.  Zion is when all people value the diverse instruments being played and use them to create a perfectly (completely, fully developed) harmonious sound.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Those Who Disagree Silently Sometimes Outnumber Those Who Agree

I believe strongly that those who believe they are outside the norm in the Church would be shocked at how many others feel the same way - including many who serve in very visible positions.

An example:

I have lived in quite a few wards in my life. In one particular situation, our Gospel Doctrine teacher brought up the topic of Divine Investiture (the idea that the Son often speaks as if he were the Father, since he represents the Father). The extreme version of this is that the Father never once spoke directly with man until he appeared to Joseph Smith in the First Vision. Our GD teacher believed this firmly, for no other reason than a previous Church President had said it - so he used it to say that a passage we were reading was the Son (Jehovah) speaking, even though it referred to "Mine Only Begotten Son".

Glancing around the class, I could tell that about half of the members attending weren't totally comfortable with that - but not so uncomfortable that they felt like making an issue about it. I raised my hand and said, essentially:

"I know lots of members who believe differently about that particular issue - but I personally don't care. The words are the Father's no matter if he or the Son is saying them, so as long as we recognize that they are the Father's words I'm fine with it."

I could have made an issue or confrontation out of it, and I could have remained silent - like everyone else there who didn't agree totally. Instead, I simply said that it's ok to not see it that exact way - and the conversation moved on.

The interesting thing is that a couple of weeks later, there was a similar situation with something that was taught, and one of the very respected sisters in that ward spoke up and said, "I just can't see it that way. When I read it, I get (a different message)." After the class, before Priesthood meeting, another brother who was in a presidency in the ward leaned toward me and said, "Whenever we get into those types of deep discussions (controversial ones is what he meant), my brain starts to hurt - so I just tune it out until they're done. I figure I'll understand it someday, but I just don't care right now." Both of those members are seen by everyone as faithful, dedicated members (because they are) - and actually as orthodox, conservative members (because they just don't care about correcting everything with which they disagree).

As I said, I think this happens WAY more often than most members think.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Coming Out" with Regard to Differing Beliefs

I'm about as "out" as it is possible to get when it comes to my beliefs - but I'm firmly "in" the Church. I don't hesitate to share my opinions, as everyone in the entire Bloggernacle knows - but everybody also knows I'm fully committed to the Church. I don't lie; I don't hide my beliefs; I don't mince words; I don't let harmful or really, really stupid things go unaddressed; I regularly express my view in public and privately with individuals. Some people are "out" - while I am "way out there" in some ways. I also am "in" in many other ways.

It doesn't have to be one or the other - "in" or "out". That's part of the black and white worldview that causes so much of the dissonance experienced by those who struggle to feel like they fit in and belong.

Let me try to put it this way:

Why could Elder Wirthlin serve in the same quorum as Elder McConkie and Elder Packer? Why can Elder Packer serve in the same quorum as Elder Andersen and Elder Cook? Do you really think that they pull punches with each other about their beliefs on topics they discuss? Believe me, it doesn't happen that way - and it never has. They hash it all out openly and honestly among themselves - and generally don't move forward until there is a consensus.

What's the difference in a ward or stake? It is absolutely vital to ask this question and understand the answer.

The difference, primarily, is people who are less willing to grant that others can disagree and still be fine, faithful, dedicated members of the Church. When Elder Wirthlin begged that we allow ALL instruments in the orchestra to be heard, he was saying that it's OK to be different in the way one thinks and sees lots of things (and even "sounds" to others) - to be "out" of the normal range, if you will. The key is being "in" the orchestra - actively playing your own instrument - not sitting on the sidelines worried about sounding different or letting others exclude you due to your different instrument and its sound.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

No Fishing in the Ponds of Past Mistakes

A wonderful sister in Arlington, MA told my wife years ago something profound when my wife was struggling to care for our young children each Sunday while I served as the Seminary teacher in a small branch miles away. It was hard, and my wife wondered aloud one day why I couldn't be there to help her.

My memory version of what Sister Sloan told her is:

There is a bridge spanning a canyon that is very deep. Far below the bridge a small stream runs through the canyon. The local people regularly take pieces of paper, write their hurt feelings and bitterness on the paper and drop them from the bridge to the stream below. In the middle of the bridge, where the people drop their notes, is a sign which says, simply:


Saturday, April 14, 2012

The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel: What Do They Mean to You?

My focus this month for my New Year's Resolution posts is principles and ordinances.  I am late writing this first weekend post because of Easter last week, but I want to focus initially on a very simple explanation of what the "first principles and ordinances of the Gospel" mean to me. Next week, I will address why they are the fundamental principles and ordinances, but first I want to write a very simple post about what they actually are - at only the most basic level. 

Our Fourth Article of Faith says:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In order, the most basic explanation of each of these principles and ordinances for me is:

1) "faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ"

I see this principle, again at the most basic level, as nothing more complicated than actually believing what our scriptures say about Jesus of Nazareth deeply and profoundly enough that it actually motivates us to do what he asked us to do / said we need to do to qualify as disciples.  James describes true, living faith as a combination of belief and action, and Joseph Smith said that faith is an animating and motivating power.  Belief alone is not enough, since even the devils believe; the differentiating and distinguishing factor between those who profess to believe and those who truly believe is NOT the detail of their belief but rather how they live according to their professed beliefs - how their lives reflect their beliefs - what they become as a result of their beliefs. 

Thus, at the most fundamental level, this principle is not simply the content of my beliefs about the Lord, Jesus Christ; it includes the expression and manifestation of those beliefs in my actual, real, interpersonal life in the actual, real world in which I live among actual, real people. 

2) "repentance"

At the core, repentance means nothing more than "change" - and that is a wonderfully concise description of the central reason for our existence.  We all recognize, hopefully, that we are weak and ungodly in our human nature.  Repentance is more than just a recogniton of that simple fact; it is the active component of real faith.  It is how true faith is manifested in our lives. 

Jesus taught us to be and become different than we are and have been.  Repentance, again at the most fundamental level, is our acceptance of personal responsibility to strive to follow that admonition - to be and become more like him and his Father - to be "partakers of the divine nature" - to "be ye therefore perfect, as your father which is in heaven is perfect" - to "put off the natural man and become a saint" - etc. 

(For more of what I've written about repentance, including about how we have narrowed repentance too much in our delineation of the "steps of repentance" and how we need to have a fresh view of repentance, click on the tab for "Repentance" in the list at the bottom of this blog.) 

3) "baptism by immersion, for the remission of sins"

Focusing on the most fundamental definition possible, I see baptism as nothing more or less than a symbolic, public, physical representation of our firm commitment to have real faith and to repent - and I believe each of those asepcts is critically important. 

a) Baptism is symbolic.  There is nothing magical or special about the water in which we are immersed - and there is nothing magical or exclusive about the actual form of the ordinance.  As I've said in other threads here, ancient Israel used circumcision to represent their commitment to follow their God, and circumcision and baptism couldn't be more different.  If God can use such radically different ceremonial forms to convey commitment, I am fine with just about anything that resonates with societies and cultures - although I also am fine with limiting our own fundamental expression of commitment within the LDS Church to baptism.  It's not the literal form of the ordinance that is important; it's the symbolic meaning that is central for me. 

b) Baptism is public.  I think this is important, to the extent possible in individual situations, since baptism also is an entry way into a comunity of believers - a way for the person entering to assure the community that she truly is committed AND a way for the community to express support for that commitment.  There are no hermits in the kingdom of God; godhood is not a solitary existence; commitment to Jesus of Nazareth and the gospel he taught is communal in a very real and powerful way. 

c) Baptism is physical.  Just like cirumcision was a physical expression of faith and communal identity that carried spiritually symbolic meaning, baptism also is performed by immersion for a very simple but profound reason - that the "whole soul" must be committed and involved.  We must love God with all of our heart, might, mind and strength - not just with our spirit.  Thus, immersion is central to the proper symbolism of our commitment - just as circumsision necessitated a real, physical commitment for the men of ancient Israel.  Importantly, at least for me, baptism is a new testiment that allows women to participate in the full process of expressed commitment in a way that circumcision did not in the past. 

4) "laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost"

In the ordinance of confirmation, we are told to "receive the Holy Ghost".  There is a sermon in that phrase alone, but I want to focus on the most basic meaning of the ordinance itself - which, for me, is nothing more than a commitment to seek and follow input from God.  By accepting the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, we acknowledge our willingness to seek and follow input from God in two distinct and vital ways: through the ministering of others (the laying on of hands) and through direct revelation / inspiration from God (the gift of the Holy Ghost).  Both are vital, and I believe we overlook the first too often in our exclusive focus on the second

The above is how I see the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel, at the most basic level.  I would love to hear from anyone who reads this about how they see these principles and ordinances.

Friday, April 13, 2012

How Do You Approach Church Leaders and Members When They . . .

The following are three questions that were posed on a thread at a group blog in the Bloggernacle a few years ago - and my response to them:

1) when a leader "calls" you to a position that would require you to do or say things that, frankly, you don't believe?

I'm not sure that can be done. I don't want to minimize the struggle of others getting to where I am with regard to this exact issue, but nothing and nobody can "require" me to do or say things that I don't believe (mostly because I simply refuse to do so) - and I've been on a High Council and in a Bishopric, for example, and been thanked for providing a different perspective on discussions. The key is being comfortable BOTH with my own beliefs AND the responsibilities of the calling in which I serve - and being willing to be open with those who extend callings and assignments to me.

For example, I was asked once to chair the Melchizedek Priesthood Preach the Gospel Committee in my ward. I was clear that my suggestions and leadership would be based on why those committees often are useless wastes of time and totally ineffective - and that I would be proposing some non-traditional approaches that might be seen as radical by some members. The High Priests Group Leader said, "OK." I accepted the assignment, since if he really wanted me he had to accept ME.

The key is that he knew I'm a "faithful member" - that I care deeply about the Church and its members regardless of differences in specific beliefs (and that nothing I proposed would be selfish in nature, and I wouldn't pitch a hissy fit if what I suggested wasn't approved). I might argue privately, but I would never make it a public fight - and I would stop arguing privately once he made his final decision. The one thing I could promise, however, was that I wouldn't teach anything I didn't believe. 

2) when a leader "reprimands" you by quoting a scripture that implies that your actions are against scripture?

I either quote another scripture or prophet back at them with a HUGE smile on my face (if we are friends and he understands my twisted sense of humor), or I thank her for her concern, ponder it seriously and deeply, see what I can take from it to help myself understand her or the principle better, then make a change or continue as I have been - depending on the outcome of all the stuff I just outlined. The key for me has been to assume there is SOMETHING I can learn from the reprimand, even if it only is greater charity and understanding of other good people who see things differently than I do.

A former Bishop told me once that he deeply appreciated two things about working with me:

1) I told him exactly what I thought, both when I agreed and when I disagreed with him;

2) I said, "OK," and supported him when what he decided to do wasn't what I had suggested.

Very few things are worth fighting about, and a reprimand doesn't even come close to that level of importance.

3) in general, when another member (leader or not) talks of you needing to repent of an action that you really don't feel is wrong?

"Thank you. I appreciate your concern and will think about what you have said."

Then I try to act as I've outlined in response to #2 above. I try hard not to be defensive and to try to model for them how I hope they would respond if I ever felt prompted to reprimand them or call them to repentance. After all, I believe the most important aspect of life is repentance - meaning simply "change". If I can't try, at the very least, to be open to observations of others that might point out changes I need to make, then I probably won't change much - and that would be a shame.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Stop "Godding" up the players (and religious leaders): Insight into a Culture of Adulation

The following article is about college athletics, but it has similar application to religious history and how we tend to airbrush and glorify religious leaders.  Please read it in that light - not just as a treatise on popular culture (athletics) but also in a "liken all things unto ourselves" sense. 

It's time to stop deifying college coaches - Dan Wetzel (

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Revelation Sometimes Comes through Means Not Normally Seen as Revelatory

I think we live in a day and age when much of what used to be seen as clear-cut revelation now is interpreted as non-revelation. I think we have seen what happens when previous leaders interpreted their own feelings and beliefs as ordained of God (e.g., the Priesthood ban) - and so current leaders are careful now only to attribute "thus saith the Lord" to things where they are certain it has been communicated through extraordinary means.

I'm OK with that - since many people chafe at being told specifically what to think and believe. It's a two-edged sword - and I'm not sure anyone really wants the President of the Church and the apostles laying out lots of things we simply MUST believe as coming straight from the mouth of God in a way that closes the discussion and says, essentially, "Shut up and accept this." I believe most members don't want a return to the Law of Moses and its myriad regulations, restrictions and legalism.

It's one thing to be able to say, "Our leaders are fallible, and it's up to us to ponder and pray about what their words mean to us personally;" it's a completely different thing to say, "Please tell us, 'Thus saith the Lord' and take away our need to find individual meaning and divine connection for ourselves."

I also think there is validity to the scarcity of "new stuff" between Nephi and Alma in the Book of Mormon - and the blunt statements of the leaders at the end of the small plates of Nephi that say, essentially, "I know of nothing new, so I'm not going to clutter the plates with my own ramblings." The Church makes changes (and sometimes pretty radical changes) on a regular basis in both what it teaches and what it does. I'm fine with attributing that to revelation - which I define as "insight from God" received in some way.

Given that definition, I'm fine with revelation being the result of long-time dedication to striving to understand and come closer to God - even when it happens through what we might naturally consider to be "normal" means, and even when it doesn't appear to be revelatory in nature.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Great or Horrible PMS Joke: You Decide

I came across the post to which I originally linked randomly, without having read any of the author's other writings.  Due to the input in the comments, I did a little checking and agree with Ardis.  Therefore, I have removed the link and added this paragraph. 

I apologize sincerely for providing the link in the first place.  Thank you, Ardis, for making me aware of the nature of other things the author has written.  I certainly do not want to promote his overall content in any way.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Factual History" vs. "Myth"

I am interested in whether the things in the scriptures actually happened - but much more as an academic exercise than as a way to accept or reject them. I am FAR more interested in what I can learn from historical accounts than I am about the exact accuracy of those accounts, especially since I believe we can learn more about people from learning their myths (their ideals and what they envisioned as their ultimate relationship to each other and deity) than from most recitations of the actions of their daily lives.

"Factual History", after all, until very recently, is the story of a few leaders and their impact on people - not the story of the people themselves. "Myth", in many ways, is the story of the people - and myth always is a combination of the factual and the imagined. (and I don't mean "true and false" when I say "factual and imagined".)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

By All Objective Measures, Jesus of Nazareth Was an Abject Failure: My Easter Testimony

By all objective measurements, Jesus of Nazareth was an abject failure. His mortal ministry lasted three short years. The hopes of a nation (nay, of God's own Chosen People) had been recorded for centuries, trumpeting a future arrival in the following words:

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Only thirty-three years before his ignominious death, the angel had appeared and proclaimed:

"Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)

Immediately following this announcement, the heavenly multitude exclaimed:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14)

Prophets extolled the importance of His birth and life; they stressed the deliverance He would bring. He would justify the brutality of their former oppression by establishing peace and mercy and power. He would reclaim their rightful place in the kingdom of their God, humbling once and for all those who had reviled and scourged and persecuted them as they awaited their great day of glory. They still wait, nearly two thousand years later, since Jesus of Nazareth failed to fulfill their expectations so utterly and completely. Easter Sunday did not bring them joy and peace and deliverance; it brought them only more oppression and misery and separation and death.

What then of Easter Sunday - of a sealed tomb and a sobbing, despondent discipleship? Amid their continuing pain and terrible turmoil, amid the persecution and upheaval that would not end, how could they possibly find peace and joy and hope? They found it in the following pronouncement - one of the simplest, most concise statements in all of recorded history:

"He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. " (Matthew 28:6)

All of us are born to die. All of us live this life knowing it will end. Every person who has ever lived - every organization that has ever been established - every group that has ever met - every family that has ever existed - everything that has ever been created has begun with an inevitable end in store. However, through the birth and life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, all of us can look forward with hope and joy and love and longing to that day when it shall be said of us, as it was of Him, "[They] are not here; for [they are] risen."

Just as Jesus' ministry was too short for many to understand it as a glorious success, and just as the results of that ministry were too seemingly inconsequential for many to recognize their eternal significance, our own growth and success and efforts often are too short and seemingly inconsequential to recognize as the glorious successes they truly are. We celebrate Easter today not just to honor the resurrection of our King, but also to pay our humble respect to the grace that transfers his victory to us - that allows us to see and understand and feel gratitude for the successes embedded in our own apparent failures. We celebrate Easter today to celebrate not just the risen Lord, but also to honor the death and suffering that had to be offered in order for the resurrection to occur. As a friend wrote, "Christ was suffering servant as well as glorious victor, that, like the sinners the rest of us are, he had to die (and apparently fail) before he could be resurrected (and ultimately succeed)." Today, on Easter, we celebrate life and a newness of glory, but we also celebrate death and the ending of one ministry for the beginning of another.

What can we take on this Easter Sunday from the first Easter Sunday so long ago? As we honor and praise and worship our Lord's victory over death, how can we "liken [even this thing] unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning?" (1 Nephi 19:23)

In all we do - in all our efforts and associations and organizations - may we recognize and accept that our meager efforts to become like Him are undertaken with failure as the inevitable end - but that the growth we experience in our mortal efforts and associations is all He requires. May we focus on the joy of the journey and accept the unexpected detours and heartache along the way, willing to say as He said, "Not my will, but thine, be done." (Luke 22:42) May we live so that we too may be able to say, as we draw our final breath, "It is finished. (John 19:30) Into thy hands I commend my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

May we realize that our efforts, no matter the objective outcome, are not offered and accomplished in vain - that they are not viewed by our Lord as failures. Rather, let us look forward to that great and glorious day when we shall hear those gentle, soothing words,

"Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord." (Matthew 25:21)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

He Is Not Here, for He Is Risen: Why We Should Embrace the Cross

In lieu of a New Year's Resolution post this weekend, since it it Easter tomorrow I want to re-post something I wrote two years ago about how I, as a Mormon, view the cross.  I believe we have done a serious disservice to that potent symbol in our attempts to distinguish ourselves from other Christians and focus almost exclusively on the garden.  I do not mean to de-emphasize that garden experience in any way; rather, I simply mean to offer a reason why I believe we err in not teaching the importance of the cross more explicitly and centrally along with the garden.

When I talk about the Atonement, I also reference the Sermon on the Mount – and I emphasize the command to be perfect. The wording in verse 48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect.” In the overall context of Chapter 5, I agree that this conclusion means that we become “perfect” by becoming the type of “blessed” person described in the opening verses of the sermon - the Beatitudes. Further, our footnotes for verse 48 define being perfect as being “complete, whole, fully developed” – and, in connection specifically to the garden and the cross, I re-word that as “finished”.

It only was at the end of his time on the cross that Jesus declared, “It is finished” – just before he “gave up the ghost”. In other words, it only was after the cross that the Atonement was complete – that Jesus fulfilled his own command to “be ye therefore perfect.”

I honor Gethsemane, but when we ignore Golgotha we worship an incomplete, partially developed, imperfect Savior and Redeemer.

There have been any number of pronouncements in the history of this world that carried special significance for those beyond the people to whom they were addressed. Among them, within just our Christian heritage, are the following:

"Multiply and replenish the earth."

"Moses, my son."

"For unto us a child is born."

"Thou art blessed among women."

"This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him."

"It is finished."

All of these have grave import, but the greatest pronouncement in the history of the world might be simply:

"He is not here, for he is risen."

I simply add my voice here and state, with my own conviction, that, in a very real and powerful and important way:

He can be here, for he is risen.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jesus as the Great Scapegoat

I don't talk of this very often in church meetings, since it is radical in that setting and would not be understood by many, but I view Jesus' "role" much more symbolically than the vast majority of Christians. I can't comprehend a "physical" atonement, but I am fine with that possibility. I can appreciate it and count it as a great concept. However, I gain more meaning from seeing Jesus of Nazareth as the great scapegoat.

Most of you probably are aware of this, but in ancient Israel on Yom Kippur the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people on the head of a goat, and the goat was driven from the community into the wilderness - carrying the people's sins from them, so the people could be "right with God". The goat and the sins it carried were allowed to "escape" from the community; thus, it was known as the "scapegoat". This goat, having been a domestic goat and having escaped into the wilderness, inevitably died as a result of being chosen as the people's scapegoat. (see Leviticus 16:8,10,26.)

I choose to see the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth in the light of the scapegoat. I believe the great High Priest (God, the Father) symbolically laid the sins of his children on the head of the great Scapegoat (Jesus, the Christ) and allowed that scapegoat to be driven from and killed by the community. As a result, nobody needed thereafter to suffer for others' sins - to be a sin-scapegoat. As a result, we in the LDS Church can say that "mankind will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression" - but we also can speak of a Savior and Redeemer who has "taken our sins upon Him" and allowed us to repent (become right with God).

I see most of the things we learn from the life of Jesus in this same light. For example:

1) Is political oppression the great evil from which mankind needs to be delivered? No, the great evil is interpersonal oppression and lack of love. Fix that problem, and political oppression ceases.

2) Is it enough to wait on the glory of the hereafter and ignore the suffering around us (or even gloify that suffering in others from the relative comfort of our own judgment seats)? No, God works among the poor and needy to alleviate their suffering in the here and now - because love is a verb that must be shown to be real. The hereafter will take care of itself, but we are called to change the world into a heaven on earth - even amid earthly oppression.

3) Will we have bodies in the here-after similar to those we have now, only with changes that will make them immortal, as a result of the resurrection of Jesus? (In other words, did Jesus really rise from the tomb in a physically unique way - allowing us to rise in the same way?) I don't know, but I love and accept that concept even if I can't understand it literally, since I am open to the idea that ALL matter is "tangible" to those who can "see" it - AND because of the wonderful symbolism of valuing our mortal bodies as potentially eternal.

I want Jesus to have been the Son of God - my Savior and Redeemer - a real, living person who was humanity's great scapegoat - but that is largely because I absolutely LOVE the symbolism I find in his life and the power that symbolism gives to my life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Inside Each of Us Lives a Liar, a Cheat and a Sinner - and a Saint

"Out of Character": The Good and Bad In All of Us - Maria Popova (The Atlantic)

I usually provide links to things written specfically in Mormon-themed blogs, but I was struck by this article and what it says about the struggle inherent to all of us here in mortality.  I have not read the work cited in the article, but I hope the article is thought-provoking for anyone else who reads it. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Feeling and Not Feeling the Spirit at Church

I feel good most Sundays at church, but that's largely because I have tried hard to develop a true love for other people. I "feel the spirit" regularly, but I'm not sure exactly what that means, really. Perhaps I just feel the "warm fuzzies" more naturally than some.

As far as where someone can feel the spirit, I believe that different people feel God's love for them (solely or more intensively) in different situations and different places. For Joseph as a youth, it was a grove of trees; for Enos, it was while hunting, surrounded by God's creation; for some people, it is at church among their believing peers. 

I go to church to be and worship with others I have CHOSEN to love, no matter our differences - so I tend to feel good while I'm there regardless of what's being said in talks and lessons. When I am edified by a talk or lesson, which happens quite regularly given my attitude toward them, great! When I'm not (and even when I cringe or disagree), great! I'm still with people I've chosen to love in a setting I've chosen for myself.

It's all good, even when it's not all good - and that is important to me.

Oh, and the sacrament hasn't been accompanied with an outpouring of the spirit for me in a long, long time - if ever. It's something important I do as a token of my remembrance of him and commitment to live a Christ-centered life - not as a vehicle to feel the spirit. It just doesn't work that way for ME.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"That's not me!!" - Prophets

I have found it easier to relate to, accept and love Joseph, the man, than Joseph, the historical figure. 2 Nephi 4 is one of the reasons Nephi is one of my favorite Book of Mormon prophets. I like Moses, the stutterer, more than Moses, the Lawgiver.

What I'm saying is that I believe many, if not all, of the prophets of our past are looking at us saying, on a regular basis as they hear and see what we say and write about them:

"That's not me!!"