Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Beautiful Easter Message (Elder Wirthlin)

Elder Wirthlin's analogy of God's orchestra needing more than just the piccolos to express the full beauty of His creation became an instant favorite of mine the moment he uttered it. He gave another talk in the October 2006 General Conference that touched me just as deeply and brought tears to my eyes when he delivered it and as I read it again today.

I hope it touches you as it touched me on this Easter weekend.  He was truly a gentle, beautiful apostle of the Master - for whom, I am certain, Sunday has come.

"Each of us will have our own Fridays--those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

"But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death--Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

"No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or in the next, Sunday will come."

Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Sunday Will Come," Ensign, Nov. 2006, 30

Saturday, March 30, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: What the Hymns Can Teach Us about the Atonement

Today's lesson was on what the hymns can teach us about the Atonement.  I chose to leave next week's lesson open to discuss the Garden and Cross specifically, since it is Easter. 

I asked each student to choose a hymn they love that teaches about Jesus and the Atonement in some way - any way.  We went around the room, and each student told the hymn they chose and why - what it says about Jesus and the Atonement that touches them.  They chose the following hymns, listed in numerical order not the order in which we discussed them:

"How Firm a Foundation" - The message of verses 4-7 are especially poignant, as they talk about "deep waters", "deepest distress", "fiery trials", "old age", etc. and end with, "That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake."  (These students will have some fiery trials in their lives, and it was moving to see this particular song chosen.)  I used this hymn to discuss how often we miss wonderful messages when we sing only the verses that appear with the musical accompaniment. 

"How Great Thou Art" - The student highlighted verse 3, and we talked about how much "praise" can be a part of our worship if we let it be - even if we don't take it to the emotional extreme in some other denominations. 

"I Believe in Christ" - The student liked the affirmation aspect of starting everything with "I Believe in Christ" and the expansiveness of how many roles it describes. 

"God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son" - This student loved the title, all by itself and mentioned the reference to Jesus paying for a broken law. 

"I Stand All Amazed" - This was mine.  I love how this hymn describes each one of us so explicitly as sinners and mentions the wonder of grace being offered so fully. 

"There is a Green Hill Far Away" - This student couldn't pick any particular part of the hymn. We talked about how, sometimes, the most powerful messages can be the shortest ones - when meaning is packed into every word and phrase - how this hymn is so different than "I Believe in Christ" in that way, even though both can be powerful.  I asked the student to read the entire hymn as if it wasn't a song, so we could focus exclusively on the message of the words. 

"Called to Serve" - This student loved how this hymn focuses on our role in the Atonement in the sense of sharing the Gospel with others - that Jesus isn't around anymore to do it and, therefore, we have to do it for him.  The explanation was heartfelt and moving, and I had never looked at it in that way previously. 

"If You Could Hie to Kolob" - This student was captivated by the expansiveness of this hymn, from "Improvement and progression have one eternal round" to the end of the 5th verse.  I used this one as another example of how the "extra verses" often have the deepest meaning in a song and how we miss a lot when we don't sing them.  I mentioned that there is at least one Sacrament Hymn ("How Great the Wisdom and the Love") that only becomes a sacrament hymn, truly, in the final two verses we usually skip.  I also pointed out that the use of "race" in this hymn, in context of the time in which it was written and the overall message of the song, doesn't mean "Caucasian", "Hispanic", African or any other skin-color reference but rather "species" or "humanity".  

"Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" - This student talked at length about the concept of a lighthouse and the lights along the shore - how the lower lights help sailors in danger get their bearings and navigate safely to the harbor.  He talked about how sometimes people can see Christ but still get shipwrecked by the rocks around them and that we need to let our lights shine in such a way that others can avoid dangers and reach Christ.  

We wrapped up the lesson talking about understanding the hymns - taking the time to read the words and ponder what they mean rather than shutting off our brains and simply singing them.  We went through an exercise I have used in the past as the Ward Choir Director in which we looked at two hymns ("How Firm a Foundation" and "Silent Night") to see how we would go about understanding words and phrases we might not recognize and/or understand and how we would restate things in non-poetic form by focusing on complete sentences and thoughts ("I only design they dross to consume and they gold to refine," and, "Son of God, love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at they birth.") and ignoring the artificial breaks imposed by the measures and natural breath breaks. 

I love teaching these students, and I enjoy being able to dig deeply into theology and doctrine, but I also love music - so this was one of my favorite lessons - ever - in any class.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Giving Each Other Some Wiggle Room

I have a friend who sees a lot of things very differently than the other members of his small branch.  It's hard enough to be different in a large ward, but in a small branch it can be even harder.  I was talking with him a couple of years ago, and he said the following, which I thought was profound:

I expect the other LDS members to give me some wiggle room (most do not, I admit), so the least I can do is give them a little bit, too.

As I have thought about that statement since then, I have come to frame it in the following way:

I think it's appropriate to modify the Biblical statement, "We love him, because he first loved us," to, "They accept us, because we first accepted them."
However, just as not all whom he loved, loved him in return, not all whom we accept will accept us in return - as my friend said in the quote above. Our job is to accept them anyway, since, "If ye love them only which love you, do not even the publicans also?"

I believe it is important for all of us to give each other some wiggle room - to be accepting of others who are trying their hardest to follow the dictates of their own consciences.  If we can't do that, we certainly can't expect those who believe differently than we do to accept us and value our opinions. 

This has application outside the Church, as well.  How many times have you bristled when someone dismissed you just because, as a Mormon, your views were different or strange to them?  How can we expect or ask for a change if we dismiss them as they are dismissing us? 

Whether it is those inside the LDS Church with whom we disagree or those outside of it, I really do believe wiggle room is important.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Testimony of the Scope of Mormon Theology, the Atonement and Valuing Differences

I bore a very short testimony a couple of years ago and said the following:

1) I am the oldest son in my family, and I’ve never wanted nor related to the concept of an elder brother – hence, I have a really hard time “feeling” the power of that analogy for Jesus. I don’t know how to feel about an older brother, and I just don’t care much about it intellectually.

2) I had a wonderful, caring, humble, loving father – hence, I have no problem “feeling” the power of that title for Jesus’ God. I know how it feels to have a “heavenly father”, but I don’t care much about it intellectually.

3) I LOVE the intellectual / philosophical / theological concept of an atonement – but I have had to work out my own intellectual understanding of it. I love how I think about the Atonement, and I care deeply about it intellectually.

4) I’m glad our theology and my ward allows people who think and feel differently to be accepted regardless of those differences – and I’m glad I have the chance to learn things I normally wouldn’t think or feel on my own from people who think and feel differently than I do.

That’s why I go to church – to connect with people I really do love and learn from them in some way. It works most weeks, even on days when I hear lots of things with which I disagree intellectually (and that last situation occurs quite frequently). I’ve learned not to care as much as I used to care – and I’ve learned to accept that other people think and feel in certain ways because it works for them.

I want them to accept that I follow what works for me, so I need to accept that they will follow what works for them.

“We love him, because he first loved us.”

At church, I try really hard to be the “he” in that construct – and the proof of whether or not I’m succeeding is when I disagree the most.

I acknowledge that it’s easier for me than for lots of other people (for example, gay members) – but all I have is my own life and expereinces, so it’s up to me to the best I can within those experiences.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Bible, NOT the Book of Mormon, Is Mormonism's Primary Scriptural Record

It's interesting to me that the Book of Mormon says its main purpose is to bring souls to Christ - but it also says that it was written primarily so that its readers would believe the Bible. It doesn't say that the purpose is to believe in the Bible; rather it says the purpose is actually to believe the Bible - what it actually teaches. 

The actual passage is in Mormon 7:8-9 and reads:

Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you. 

For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

With that in mind, the Book of Mormon DOES NOT teach exaltation and becoming like God very deeply. There are multiple references to the idea, but they aren't nearly as expansive, numerous and explicit as the Biblical references. That's the main reason I see the Book of Mormon as a supplement / companion / 2nd witness to the Bible (since that's the relationship described in the book itself) - not the other way around. The Book of Mormon is unique to Mormonism, so it gets nearly all the attention (from others and from many members), but the Bible is our foundation text, in my opinion.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Jesus' Life As Part of the Atonement

I am going to try to post a summary of the Sunday School lessons I teach each Sunday, but, due to the timing of those lessons, the posts will publish on Saturday and be about the lessons from the previous Sunday.  This was my intent at the beginning of the year, but I am recommitting to try to make it happen, starting today.  I also am going back and posting summaries of some of our former lessons.  They will be dated according to when the lessons were taught.

Thus, the following is a summary of the lesson from last week:


We talked today about the part Jesus' life played in the Atonement.

1) We read Luke 2:52: "And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man."

I pointed out that in order to "increase" in something, someone has to start at a level less than complete - less than "perfect", in the Biblical sense of being "complete, whole, fully developed"). Thus, the Bible says that Jesus developed over time and gained favor with God as a result. 

2) We read Luke 2:41-50 - the account of Jesus at the temple at the age of 12. We read the entire account, and I pointed out that we always focus on the "good" part - that he was a precocious young man who could astound the church leaders of the time. What we overlook is that he put his parents through Hell for almost a week, not knowing where he was and searching frantically for him. They traveled a full day toward home, then a full day back, then three days searching for him. The mortal young man probably was enjoying himself and didn't stop and think about what he was doing to others.

Literally, he caused pain and suffering - so the Atonement included paying for that instance of him being the one who hurt others - paying for the pain and suffering they felt because of him. We talk about how he suffered to pay for the actions of people, but we never talk about how HE was one of those people whose actions caused that for which he paid.

3) We listed on the board all of the "major" events we know about his life outside his actual ministry: He was born in Bethlehem; he lived there (in a house) until the wise men visited (probably about 18 months, give or take a few - but I emphasized that we don't know and only can estimate based on clues in the story); he moved to Egypt for a while (duration unknown); he was raised in Nazareth; he was in Jerusalem at the age of 12; he started his ministry at age 30; he died at age 33. I pointed out that the experience in the temple at age 12 is the only specific thing we know about his life from an early age until he turned 30.  There are huge gaps in our record of the actual life of Jesus, the "man" - the son of Mary and Joseph. 

4) We read John 15:13 ("Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."), and I pointed out that "laying down one's life" doesn't have to refer to dying. We talked about the fact that Jesus, of Nazareth, had a life of his own - and the only details we have of his life are AFTER he laid down his own life and started his "mission" life. I mentioned that we don't know one way or the other, but he might or might not have left a wife - and kids - and a career - and friends in order to serve others. He was a man, and he had a man's life - whatever that was in his case.

5) We talked about what his mission was - what he did and for whom he did it. We mentioned publicans, sinners, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers - and I then back to the word "atonement" (at-one-ment) and talked about how that word can refer to more than just an individual's unity with God. We talked about the Intercessory Prayer, especially John 17:21, in which Jesus used the words "they", "we" and "us" - all plural forms - and prayed for collective unity like the unity he shared with his Father. We talked about the difference between "individual atonement" and "communal atonement" - and how Jesus' mortal ministry was focused on taking a broken society (one that was made up of distinct "parts") and working to make it united ("at one"). He served those who were cast off, ignored, marginalized, condemned, etc. - the outsiders. We talked about Zion and what keeps that from happening - that can be the accepted ones - the "in crowd" - the "faithful" who reject others and destroy unity, not just those they reject or who reject them.

6) We talked about how we can "apply the atonement in our own lives" - and I pointed out that we can't suffer FOR the sins, pains, afflictions, sicknesses, temptations, etc. of others, but we can suffer WITH others (for example, mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort) - especially those who are not supported by most people. I mentioned that I can't lay down my life in the same way Jesus did, since I have to continue to support my family, but we can give up some of our time and money and other resources to help others. I asked them to consider who the people are that they tend to avoid - who are considered "unclean" in our current society. I told them that if they want to apply the atonement in their own lives, they need to be willing to build Zion to whatever extent possible in order to take our own broken and fragmented society and help make it "at one" - to really love (through active service) those who constitute now what a friend of mine once called "Christ's kingdom of nobodies".

Friday, March 22, 2013

Doing Good for Inferior or Even Bad Reasons Is NOT Bad: Understanding "They Have Their Reward"

I think there is a really important, deep principle in the idea that "they have their reward" that gets overlooked completely in many cases. Jesus never said it's bad to do good things for the wrong reasons - and that, in and of itself, gets butchered too often in church talks. What he actually said simply is that those who do things for inferior reasons "have their reward".

If they want praise and public recognition for their financial sharing, they donate money in a way that will give it to them. "They have their reward." If they want financial blessings for paying tithing, they (sometimes) get it - one way or another. "They have their reward." If they pay tithing to hold a temple recommend so they can serve in a particular calling and be seen as righteous by others, they get it. "They have their reward."

They just don't have God's reward - or, at least, not His ultimate reward - if they haven't been changed in the process to BE that reward.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Mini-Rant: Faith is NOT a belief that the light will go on when the switch is flipped!!

I don't like some of the common examples of faith that are used to teach children about it. Believing a light will go on when you flip the light switch is not faith, and it shouldn't be taught as such - even to very small children who can't understand the full concept yet.

Paul said that faith is the substance of things "hoped for" and the evidence of things "not seen".  There's no faith required to flip a switch and expect the light to go on; it's straightforward knowledge based on previous experience - actually seeing the light go on.  Sure, it might not happen - if there's a short in the wiring or the bulb is burned out, but that still doesn't make it faith; it just shows that there can be exceptions to general "knowledge" we have gained through actual sight.

To me, our "faith" is that for which we hope because of the Atonement of Christ and the unseen evidence we see for that hope - a belief, yes, but such a strong belief that it actually compels us to act on our hope. It is Christ-centered, and the examples we use ought to be Christ-centered, as well - like those Paul used in Hebrews 11 after he defined faith.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Trying to Understand Joseph Smith, the Man: Not Your Typical Sunday School Description

Kimberly wrote an incredibly thought-provoking post on Feminist Mormon Housewives last year about how she has come to see Joseph Smith, the man.  It probably will be somewhat shocking to many LDS members, but, as someone who wants my prophets to be "real people", it resonated with me - especially since I have had similar thoughts and wondered along similar lines.  (not just about Joseph, but also about Nephi)

I am adding a rare disclaimer to this post prior to providing the link, because Kimberly's post is not standard Sunday School fare.  Although I have a very positive view of it, I understand fully that it probably won't be the view held by most members - and I honestly and sincerely don't want anyone to walk away from reading the post and question whether or not Joseph was a prophet of God.  Kimberly believes he was, and so do I.  We just believe he was a "real" person at the same time - and, more than that, an incredible, amazing, marvelous person, as well.  I just want to make that point crystal clear upfront: I love and admire Joseph Smith and accept him as a prophet of God - but I love him even more in seeing him as a truly complicated man who was not the two-dimensional caricature we too often portray him to have been.

 So, if you don't want to read a heterodox, somewhat controversial, speculative post about Joseph, please don't click the link.  Rather, simply leave a comment about how you have come to view the man whom I personally see as the modern American Moses (with Brigham Young being the modern American Joshua). 

Dealing with Joseph - Kimberly (Feminist Mormon Housewives)  [My own comments are #59 & #60.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Most Fundamental Reason Mormons Are Christian: Sets and Sub-Sets

Someone once asked the following question in a group discussion in which I was involved: 

"If Christians aren't Mormons, why is it OK for Mormons to want to be called Christians?"

My response was: 

Let me re-phrase your question in terms of another set and sub-set - one that has direct and obvious historical precedent:

"If humans aren't African-American, why is it OK for African-Americans to want to be called humans?" 

This is a simple question of sets and sub-sets.  It's not any more complicated than that.

If it's OK for people to disagree about some doctrines (and Protestants of different denominations have disagreed VIOLENTLY over lots of "foundational" doctrines over the centuries) and still be considered Christians - and if the only immutable concept which everyone within Protestantism must confess in order to be considered Christian is that Jesus is the Christ and Savior and Redeemer (which, in a nutshell, is the standard for Protestants who disagree vehemently about lots of other things) - and if, in fact, Mormons actually do confess this required concept (which, in fact, they do) - then the only way to exclude them from being Christian is to change the rules explicitly for them - to hold them to a different standard and definition than that to which others are held.

That's hypocrisy, pure and simple - since, just as African-Americans are humans no matter how others might have excluded them in the past from that category, Mormons are Christian no matter how others still exclude them from that category.  It's a simple concept made complex by people who simply are unwilling to let go of the incorrect biases and prejudices of the past, just like White Supremists who still won't admit that African-Americans really are fully human.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Why Would a God Have to Suffer for Us?

I started the Sunday School lesson last week with three questions on the chalkboard:

"Why do pain and suffering exist in this life?"

"What part do we play in pain and suffering - in receiving and causing pain and suffering?"

"Why would a God have to suffer for us?"

Before talking about those questions, we read Alma 7: 11-12, Isaiah 53: 4-6 and Matthew 8:7. We listed all of the things for which the first two passages say Jesus suffered: pains, afflictions, temptations, sicknesses, death, infirmities, griefs, sorrows, transgressions, iniquities and, interestingly, "the chastisement of (punishment associated with) our peace". We read that Jesus suffered in order to know how to "succor (nurture, support, feed, etc.) his people" "according to the flesh" (not at just a theoretical or intellectual level). We talked about things we can understand "according to the mind" without really understanding "according to the flesh".

The first answers from the students to each question tended to be doctrinal ("to teach us lessons" / "to help us learn and improve" / etc.), but we drilled down to the practical answer ("because pain and suffering are unavoidable aspects of mortal life and central to the Plan of Salvation"). In other words, because God approved and decreed we would suffer. He "authored" it, since it was a central (perhaps the central) aspect of his plan.

I then asked everyone to think about the second question and consider that we almost always talk about how the Atonement pays for what we suffer (what is done to us), but we seldom talk about the suffering we cause (what we do to others) and how forgiving us is just as much a part of the Atonement as suffering for others is - since both are aspects of healing.

We talked about why, within our legal system, the person who commits the crime must do the time - and why a judge won't sentence me for what someone else does. We talked about if God could be any different - if there were different rules for God than for us.

We discussed the 2nd Article of Faith and that God couldn't hold us accountable for all of the bad things that happened as a result of the Fall (that we won't be punished for Adam's transgression) - that God had to be willing to take responsibility for what he set in motion and be accountable for it - to walk the walk that he required us to walk - to suffer everything his plan demanded we suffer. He had to be an example we can choose to follow, not a sadistic dictator who causes others to suffer while watching from the sidelines.

We finished by revisiting the meaning of the word "repent" - how it means, at the most basic level, to change in a way that improves or makes better. We re-read Matthew 8: 7 - where Jesus says his central mission is to "heal". I mentioned that the Old Testament says in more than one place that God "repented" of what he had done - and how we change that wording because of how we associate repentance only with sin. I told them that changing the word "repent" to mean nothing more than changing in a way that improves or makes better ("to heal; repair") frees God to "repent" the natural results of the Plan of Salvation (the unavoidable pain and suffering of mortality) by healing us and fixing the otherwise broken link between us and Him.

Thus, God becomes, in a very powerful way, both the author AND the finisher of our faith. I explained that we talk almost exclusively about Jesus' role as the finisher of our faith (the one who pays the price to tie it all together in the end) but that we generally ignore completely the implications of God being the author of our faith (the one who broke the link in the first place, asked us to suffer out of trust, caused the debt to be incurred and promised things we would have to believe without seeing).

The Atonement of pure Mormonism is SO incredibly expansive, deep and profound that we generally craft a Reader's Digest version and forget that the abridged version isn't the author's complete works. I hope I opened the library door for my students today and gave them the encouragement and/or inspiration to walk inside, "feast on the word" and discover something delicious that will nourish their souls - even if it is different in some way that what others have found to feed their souls. I hope I uncovered (and they recognize and taste) what I consider to be the main course of our theology and not get so focused on the condiments, the appetizers, the beverages and the desserts that they forget to enjoy the main course - or never catch sight of it in the first place.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Exercising Faith By Thinking Critically (In an Analytical Manner)

"Faith" is the substance of things "hoped for" - the evidence of things "not seen".  I believe it is absolutely vital, when discussing faith, to remember this basic definition and not conflate faith with anything else. 

When "faith" becomes "knowledge" it no longer is faith - at least in the mind and heart of the person who believes s/he "knows". Therefore, saying someone has no faith simply because they can't say they know something is, in my opinion, a misuse of the word "faith". In my opinion, someone who can't say they "know" but still holds to "belief" actually is exercising "faith" in the truest sense of the word - hoping in something based on unseen evidence.

So, if someone claims to have received revelation for what they are doing, I am left with three options:

1) Accept it "uncritically" (shallowly and casually), simply because they claim it. In other words, employ "blind faith" by hoping that person is correct but not examining their claims in any way - or only shallowly and casually. I don't do that, but not accepting it uncritically does not mean I have no faith. It just means my faith is not blind. 

2) Accept it critically. This means I think and ponder and read and pray about it and come to believe it. I have done that regarding some revelatory claims, including at least one in which I was involved directly.

3) Examine it critically and not accept it. Same explanation as #2, but with the opposite result. I have done that regarding some revelatory claims, as well. Delete

 Joseph Smith had his experiences largely because he refused to accept things uncritically - because he was willing to examine things critically, not just shallowly and casually. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God," is a directive to be "critical" in the purest sense of the word and in the way I use it. So is, "Seek ye out of the best books . . ." and, "receive . . . read . . . ponder . . . pray . . ." and, "plant . . . the seed . . . and . . . (observe its growth)."

I only can be sure of those experiences that happen to me - or, to a degree, to others for whom I have felt a prompting to accept them as revelators. In an important way, those experiences have "happened to me" if I have gone through the critical process of accepting the revelator as a legitimate revelator. That doesn't mean I have to believe everything they say is revelation, but it does mean it's much easier to accept revelation from them.

The onus for that decision is on me - as an exercise of my faith - as something for which I am willing to hope with some degree of evidence in the absence of actual sight.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Critical Part of Love Is to Know the Pain of Too Much Tenderness - to Bleed Willingly and Joyfully

Thank you, Tracy, for sharing this beautiful poem.  I'm not linking to the post in which you shared it, but I want to thank you publicly for doing so. 


When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
~Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

When One's Life Doesn't Fit the Married Mormon Ideal

On Being a Single Mother in the Church - Tracy M (By Common Consent)

The post is deeply thought-provoking (especially coming from a solidly believing member), and the comment thread is enlightening, as well. 

There are no easy answers, but constant awareness and an active vocabulary change are great places to start.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Getting to the Temple is NOT the Goal of Mormonism

I had a conversation with a Catholic friend at one point that I want to share with everyone today.

My friend, after a long discussion about the temple, said the following:

"For Mormons, the goal is to get to the temple."

He then said:

"It seems to me the real goal, for all of us as Christians, is to get back to God."

My response was: 

The goal for Mormons is NOT to get to the temple. Period. Full stop. The goal of the temple is to focus us more intently on getting back to God. Thus, the temple is NOT an end destination; rather, it's a step along the process - a symbolic representation of our ultimate goal. Not one Mormon I know would bat an eye if I stated that from the pulpit in Sacrament Meeting.

Just as there is a real power in performing a physical ordinance like baptism that is experienced by the submersion of BOTH body and spirit (the whole soul) under water (which is symbolic of the life we desire to live after baptism - being fully immersed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, body and spirit - in order to help us return to God), there is real power in what occurs in the temple for the exact same reason. No ordinance is an ultimate goal in and of itself; every ordinance simply is the manifestation of our desire to achieve our ultimate goal - which is exactly what you say it is, getting back to God in the state he intended when he created us. 

We just differ as to what that state is. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: "What do the sciptures teach us about the Aronement?"

This month, the lesson topic is "The Atonement of Jesus Christ". The topic I chose for this week (and next, assuming it would take at least two weeks) is:

"What do the scriptures teach us about the Atonement of Jesus Christ?"

I wrote four questions on the board: "What?"  "Why?"  "How?"  "Why God?"

I told the students that we might not get to all four questions, especially the last one, and that we probably would have to take at least two weeks to cover everything I wanted to cover.

I started not by opening the scriptures first, but rather by asking the students how they would define the atonement if someone at school asked them what it means. They mentioned the Garden of Gethsemane and Golgotha, and they mentioned "returning to God". We probed a bit further and went into the Bible Dictionary for what it says. We focused on the meaning of bringing two things together as one and talked about what that means - and how oneness in Mormon theology is different than just being with God - that it's being like God enough to be gods in our own right.

I had them open the Topical Guide and look under "Atonement" to see how many scriptures are listed there. They saw that there are no verses or passages listed; instead, there are other topics listed, including "Jesus Christ - Atonement through". We turned to that topic, and they saw that there are about 1 1/2 columns of verses listed there. I asked each of them (10 students total) to take 5 seconds and choose one of those verses to read and discuss. I told them to close their eyes and put their fingers on one if they wanted, since I didn't care at all which ones we read. I waited about 10 seconds and then asked them, one-by-one, which verses they picked. They stayed in the Topical Guide, while I found and read each scripture. (I did that to save time and to allow them to pick a different scripture if someone before them picked the same one they had chosen.) I read the ten scriptures and we talked very briefly about each one. I told them we would talk more next week about the ones that dealt with pain, suffering, affliction, temptation, sickness, infirmities, etc. being covered by the Atonement.

I then asked why an atonement is necessary. They mentioned that we can't get to heaven on our own and a couple of other good but standard answers. I asked them to think even more fundamentally and simply, using the definition we had read as the basis for their answer. One girl said, "Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve" - so I asked what she meant. She said that we are separated from God and need to get back to Him and be like him, which we aren't right now. I agreed and said that being made "at one" can't occur unless we aren't at-one.

I then asked them how we can become at one with God - not how Jesus suffered, but what our responsibility is in the process of atonement. That stumped them at first, but someone mentioned obeying the commandments. I changed that to "doing what we think will make us like God", since not everyone agrees about what the commandments are, and they all agreed with that. Someone then said we need to repent, and we talked about the meaning of repent being, at the core, nothing more than "change". I pointed out that if we are different than God and want to be like God, the ONLY thing that is necessary is to change that difference - and, again, that means our part of the deal simply is to try our best to change in ways that we believe will make us more like God. I told them that I don't really care much about exactly how someone understands the Atonement intellectually; what I care about is how someone strives to be Christ-like in how they act and how they treat other people.

We ended by reading John 17 - the Intercessory Prayer - the entire chapter. I reminded them that this was Jesus' farewell prayer right before the Garden and the Cross. I asked them to keep that in mind as we read the prayer. I highlighted, especially, verse 3 (life eternal is knowing God, the Father, and Jesus, the Christ), verse 5 (which I read as a request by Jesus that he be given back the glory of his status as a God, so he could handle what he knew was coming), verse 10 (that Jesus' glory was in his disciples - a very different definition of glory than many people have concerning God), verse 13 (that full joy is internal and shared), verse 15 (saying, essentially, "I have protected them up to this point, but I won't be around much longer, so take care of them when I'm gone" - which hits my heart every time I read it), verses 21-23 (which I told them I believe is the simplest, most pure description of "at-one-ment" we have in all of our scriptures) and verse 25 (which says, in essence, that the disciples still didn't know the Father like Jesus knew the Father). We went back to verse 3 and read just that verse and verse 25 back-to-back, pointing out that Jesus was praying in a very real way that the disciples would be able to gain "life eternal" in his absence - that AFTER he left them, they could come to know Heavenly Father in a way they couldn't when Jesus still was with them.

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's Not What We Get; It's Who We Become.

In the debate about the place of (verbally expressed) faith vs. works, I prefer to try to simplify.

There are two options:

1) What I do is important and has an impact on my life and my future, and I have some degree of choice in deciding what I do.

2) What I do really isn't important and has no impact on my life and my future, since I really don't have much choice in deciding what I do.

I accept the first option, and I really don't care all that much about exactly how different people make sense out of it - how they choose to explain it in a way that makes sense to them. I try not to get caught in semantic arguments about the "best" or "correct" way to frame the discussion.  Instead I try to stay focused on what I perceive to be the central issue. 

As an extension of that conclusion, there are two options:

If what I do is important, I can focus my "doing" on:

1) "becoming" or

2) "getting" ("earning")

The Mormon approach is to focus on "becoming". I like that MUCH more than focusing on "getting". Sure, it can be a fine line, since receiving eternal life can be worded as a "reward" we "get" - but if eternal life is defined as a "condition" (a state of being we reach), then it really isn't something we "get" or "earn". Instead, it really is something we "become".

That is perhaps the central theme of the entire Bible, but it gets lost in the endless debate over confessing or working. I see that whole debate as a bit of a smokescreen - obscuring the "true" objective laid out in the Bible itself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Danger of Seeing Patterns as Formulas

A friend of mine once shared the following with me, and I want to pass it on to everyone who reads my blog.  I thought it was profound when I received it, and I still think so now.  I have added some of my own thoughts into his words - modifying his pattern a bit, if you will:

A formula, by definition is a series of inputs that result inevitably in a predictable output: A + B = C. 
A pattern is a plan, based on experience and/or observation, for producing a predictable output. A pattern however, can be modified by lots of varying circumstances outside the control of the "creator" and end up producing radically different "outputs".

It is efficient to use patterns for one's life, and we use them all the time in the Church. There is no reason, for example, to burn your finger on the stove, if someone else has already had that experience and you can learn from it vicariously.  Thus, following the principles articulated in the Word of Wisdom can be much safer than insisting on understanding addictions fully by becoming addicted then overcoming the addiction.  Even though not all who partake become addicts (there is no firm formula for addiction to some substances), there is enough of a discernible pattern to warrant many people treating the pattern as if it was a formula
There are issues, however, to doing that - to seeing patterns as if they were formulas:

First, to some degree, as we rely on patterns or formulas, we give up our ability to experience life personally and up close. Obviously, we want to avoid unnecessary dangers, but is it really life if we engulf ourselves completely in patterns and formulas? Maybe we risk not seeing the sunrise differently that someone else - and that would be a shame. Maybe we risk closing ourselves to the whispering of the Spirit - and that would be an even greater shame. 

The second thought is that as an LDS culture, we tend to take a pattern and think of it as a formula.  (In fact, this tendency is deeply rooted in the "natural (wo)man".)  For example:

- Marrying a returned missionary will make you happy.

- Marrying in the temple will lead to the Celestial Kingdom.

- If you marry a returned missionary in the temple, you will be happy and end up in the celestial kingdom.  (A + B = C)

Any time that we think of a pattern as an absolute formula, we are eventually BOUND to be gravely disappointed by: the returned missionary who goes 'astray' - the temple marriage that goes bad - the general unhappiness we might feel.  Perhaps, some of that general unhappiness (or shattering disappointment and disillusionment) might be because we feel we haven't really experienced "our own" lives and, instead, simply lived a pattern believing it to be a formula. 

I think it is important to understand the heart of what my friend said - that we can follow a general pattern (and that it's important to do so in many cases), but that it's just as important to find and follow our own paths and the promptings of the Holy Ghost that can tailor and alter a general pattern to one that is right and inspired and directed for each of us as an individual.  We need to understand how few formulas there are in mortality and, instead, see and adapt patterns that have meaning to us - and that will not shatter our perspectives if they do not act as formulas that create "C" and lead us instead to "D" - or "L" or even "Z".

Monday, March 4, 2013

Women and Non-Mormons Also Can Exercise The Power of the Prayer of Faith

"The prayer of faith" is just that - a prayer expressed with faith.

This is my own take, but I have no problem whatsoever with women or children touching a person for whom they are praying. Holding babies or children (or spouses or friends) while "praying over them" adds an element of physicality and real connection that is powerful in and of itself.
There is a real power in being "wrapped in the arms of love" - and when that is combined with deep and faithful prayer . . . I'm not advocating that someone "mimic" a Priesthood blessing in this day and age (not at all), but I simply can't see the harm in laying hands on someone in some way and praying for them in faith.

Along those lines, I believe that all fathers (whether LDS or not) should use our pattern of Father's Blessings to pray over their children - and I can't see any harm in mothers doing the same by offering a "Mother's Blessing", performed with no mention of the Priesthood and simply, "As your mother (and, when appropriate, 'in the name of Jesus Christ')," - since women who are baptized have entered the exact same covenant as men to take upon themselves the name of Christ and "do all things in his name". Members of other Christian denominations often make that same basic promise in one way or another, and the prayer of faith certainly is not limited to the LDS Church.

I believe there is ao much power inherent in the covenants all of us make and the blessings and powers and rights we are given upon baptism and confirmation and endowment and sealing that are not dependent on a formal conferral of Priesthood that is required currently to perform formal ordinances.
There is SO much that women and non-members can do without coming anywhere near apostasy or confrontation or difficulty. This is just one example, in my opinion.

Friday, March 1, 2013

We Can't Ask of Others What We Aren't Willing to Give Them

I am involved with some members who are struggling with some sort of faith crisis, and I point out to them regularly that they can't ask of others what they aren't willing to give those others first - without being hypocrites. Particularly, they can't ask more orthodox members to accept their heterodoxy as legitimate unless they are able and willing to accept those members' orthodoxy as legitimate.

That's not an easy balance, especially since I'm NOT advocating a totally relativistic view of truth. What I'm saying is that "loving someone" often involves accepting their differences in thought and perspective and realizing that ALL of us see through our glass, darkly - and extending charity by not judging and being narrow-minded.

It helps if everyone has some sort of orthopraxy around which they can rally (which is one of the geniuses of Mormonism, in my opinion), but it can't apply in some areas of heteropraxy - since there are some actions which simply cannot be tolerated.  I just believe the list of intolerable actions is a lot smaller than many people are willing to accept.