Thursday, April 30, 2015

Puzzles and Mosaics: Or, God Came to Me at the Unexpected Death of My Daughter

I have a dear friend who shared the following with me some time ago.  I have thought a lot about it since that time, and I love the concept of the mosaic.  I hope what he shared can help someone in some way:

I remember reading an article in the BYU alumni magazine that showed a gap between two points. Overlaid on this were some puzzle pieces of a suspension bridge, but considerable portions of the puzzle were missing. Where the missing pieces had been there was a pencil drawing of the bridge.

The moral of the story is that even if I can't fit all the pieces together right now, I can be confident that there is a "plan" that does fit all the pieces together.

I was unable to re-find the exact article but here is a similar description:
Maybe another metaphor will help - that of an old jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the box is a broad, or holistic, view of some reality given by revelation; but the picture on our box is incomplete (see Article of Faith 9) and unclear in spots (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Moreover, we are also missing several pieces of the puzzle, and we are not even sure how many are gone. Some of the pieces in our box do not appear to belong to our puzzle at first, and others quite definitely are strays. The picture on the box becomes clearer to us, however, with greater study of its details. The more closely we examine the available pieces and the more use we make of our minds, the more we are able to put together a few pieces of solid truth here and there. We may, of course, put some of the pieces in the wrong place initially, but as other pieces are put into position and as we continually refer to the picture on the lid, we are able to correct those errors. As our understanding of both the picture and the pieces progresses, we gain greater respect for what we know, for how it all fits together, and for what we yet do not know.  (excerpted from this article)

There is a similar metaphor of a tapestry that is sometimes used to explain adversity. The idea is that, from where we sit, the jumbled, chaotic, and painful experiences are as the loose threads hanging on the underside of the tapestry. If we could but see from the Master’s perspective we would see how each thread fits into the master plan. (The Hugh B. Brown illustration of the currant bush is a famous LDS equivalent.)

These ideas seem to indicate that there are not only plans for humanity as a whole but also individualized plans for each of us. When tragedy struck me, I pondered whether this was part of a grand design for my life based on this understanding. Was such a horrible event fated to bring about the maximum divine potential for everyone involved?

This idea did not resonate with my internal compass and I had to discard it. It didn’t seem to make sense that God would smash my beautiful glass and steel structure only to say, “You’ll thank me later.”

A Mosaic is different than a puzzle. A mosaic is a work of art. It may be from pieces of broken glass. It may be of puzzle pieces that were never intended to go together.

Elder Maxwell used the metaphor of a mosaic in one of his talks:

The finished mosaic of the history of the Restoration will be larger and more varied as more pieces of tile emerge, adjusting a sequence here or enlarging there a sector of our understanding. 
The fundamental outline is in place now, however. But history deals with imperfect people in process of time, whose imperfections produce refractions as the pure light of the gospel plays upon them. There may even be a few pieces of tile which, for the moment, do not seem to fit.("Out of Obscurity", October 1984 General Conference)

But it seems to me that he is still using them as puzzle pieces - that there is a master plan and eventually we will see clearly what now we can only see in outline form. He seems to use the refractions of gospel light through the "imperfect" pieces as a degradation of the "pure light of the gospel." I guess in his context he was talking of being tolerant of imperfection in our leaders – but there is beauty in divine diversity.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave some years ago.
I can’t speak with any degree of certainty about others, but as I analyze my testimony. I see that the fabric of it is literally made up of thousands of experiences that combine together to form a “witness.” I may not be able to remember most of the moments that have shaped my testimony. Still, all of these instances have left their mark and contributed to the whole. (see also "Testimony as a Process", Elder Carlos Godoy, November 2008) I am left with a tapestry in progress, adding line upon line and thread upon thread, to discover as Jesus said in the Pearl of Great Price – that all things testify of Him. (Moses 6:63) Each little strand in its own way and the whole mosaic together bear record that He is the Christ.

Because our individual testimonies come through varied experiences and at different stages, it is to be expected that there should be some variation and nuance in how each of us experience the Restored Gospel. (See also Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004 ) Elder Uchdorf says, “A testimony is very personal and may be a little different for each of us, because everyone is a unique person.” ("The Power of a Personal Testimony", October 2006 General Conference) 

I feel like I am constructing a mosaic and not a puzzle. I am putting pieces together not because this is where they must fit but because how they look together “speaks to me.” What I'm building is not a map to "what's out there", it is a reflection of what is inside me.

I like the idea of “refractions.” I can imagine divine light shining through my personal mosaic. What a glorious sight. Mine is unique and special, but it is still a valid expression of divine light. Sometimes I feel like a mosaic person in a puzzle church. Sometimes I feel like others are not comfortable with me because I might "color outside the lines" or put my pieces together in non-traditional ways. It doesn't matter that my mosaic doesn't look the same as someone else's.

I do not believe that God planned out the early death of our daughter, but I do believe that he came to me there, amidst my internal pile of crumpled metal and shattered glass, to offer comfort. I believe that He is encouraging me to rebuild as a mosaic. This new structure has no architectural drawing and must be grown organically with heart and mind and spirit. I make no claim that my internal structure is perfect or that I will ever be done building it. I believe that God is willing to bless my mosaic and breathe into my imperfect structure His breath of life. God can work with the imperfections and fill the whole of it with the “pure light” of his immeasurable love. Like light flowing through a stained glass window, the human and the divine come together. This has become my chapel.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Setting Limits When Callings Get in the Way of Family

I've talked with a lot of people over the years who have struggled to find a proper balance between the time they spend with their families and the time they feel obligated to devote to church callings.  What I have told them generally is focused around the following statements from church leaders - since they often want validation from church leaders.  

In "Concern for the One", Elder Wirthlin mentioned that one group that stops attending church are the "tired" - and he put the responsibility to fix that on those who are making them tired. Thus, it is important to avoid spending so much time in church callings that exhaustion occurs. 

In a world-wide training session, Elder Packer said that the Church is established to serve families, not families established to staff the Church.  It's critical to remember that prioritization, especially when others expect more than is possible to give. 

Yes, absolutely it's okay to set limits. If we don't do that, unfortunately, the 80/20 rule will apply by default - especially since so many people who end up in leadership roles are do-it-all-ers and can't accept letting some things get left undone. That's true of nearly ALL organizations, frankly. If you show you are willing to put in overtime on a salary, guess what happens? In fact, many salaried positions are assumed to include what normally would be considered overtime - "whatever it takes to do the job".

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All Types of Lives and Experiences Are Legitimate and Valuable

I have had a handful of experiences in my life that I believe were truly miraculous and that testified to me of the existence of God.  I have mentioned that a number of times online, and I have been asked more than once to share those experiences.  Occasionally, in the right setting, I have shared one or more, but, generally, I have respectfully declined to do so.  

I have absolutely no desire to share my experiences in order to be dissected and analyzed to see if they can be proven to be objective miracles - especially by someone who is coming into the conversation strongly convinced that they aren't. I know what I have experienced, and I have examined those experiences as analytically as I can and can find no way to explain them logically (without factoring in the possibility of the miraculous, which is not traditionally logical).  However, I also am dead certain that many people wouldn't accept them as incontrovertibly miraculous, including many people whom I count as good friends.

If someone doesn't believe in unexplainable power of some sort that can be accessed by humans, particularly if he has never experienced anything of that nature, I am fine with that. I really am. As I've said here numerous times, at the most fundamental level, we only can "know" (to any degree) what we have studied, witnessed and/or experienced personally - and, even then, we can't know some of it objectively. We certainly can't explain to others adequately enough for them to believe if they can't see what we've seen. I also am fine with that. I'm not looking for unanimity of experience or belief here or anywhere else online where I comment; I are participating in communities of diverse people from whom I can learn - particularly in ways that are not natural (that are "foreign") to me. I'm looking for unique perspectives I would not be able to see naturally. 

I have shared the example of Laman and Lemuel and why I think they get a bit of a bum rap in the Book of Mormon. The example that related to this post is when Nephi asked if they had inquired of the Lord to see what Lehi saw - and they responded that the Lord didn't make those things known to them. If Nephi (and Lehi) had been open to that as a factual, honest, acceptable answer, we might have a different narrative than we have - if they had understood that some people simply don't have visions or hear voices or feel soul-burning impressions. Those who have those experiences tend to discount or reject the idea that others don't or can't have them, while those who don't or can't have them tend to discount or reject the experiences of those who do have them.

I'd rather be open to both types of lives and "experience-orientations" as legitimate and valuable - as well as all points between those extremes.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Moroni's Promise: "True" Doesn't Have to Mean" "Factually Accurate in Every Detail"

Based on the wording of Moroni 10:3-5, Moroni's invitation is about gaining a spiritual witness, not an intellectual one. That is an important distinction, and it is worth considering carefully.

Verse 3 focuses intensely on looking back in time and recognizing how merciful God has been to his children throughout time - then pondering that mercy.  It doesn't ask the reader to ponder what the Book of Mormon has said up to that point; rather, it asks the reader to ponder God's long-suffering mercy.

Focusing on God's mercy puts the reader's prayer directly into the realm of asking if the Book of Mormon is "true" in a spiritual sense - more like "true north" than "factually inerrant". Given how often the book includes comments about overlooking the mistakes in it and the weakness of its writers, I think that's not accidental. Thus, the prayer request becomes less, "Tell me if this book is historically accurate," and more, "Be merciful to me, as you have been to others throughout time, and answer my prayer." It's more of a connection to the divine than receipt of a factual answer - and I believe too many members and missionaries approach it as more of an intellectual question that asks if the details in the book are "accurate / right".

I think that simple difference is more than just significant.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Why I Believe in Creative and Controlled Honesty

About "creative honesty":

I believe in being honest, but I also believe in being careful and intentional in how I express that honesty – and that applies to ALL my interactions, not just (or even primarily) my religious/church ones. I believe in creative honesty – and I don’t think that’s a paradox in any way. (I also believe in being flat-out, unambiguously, blatantly dishonest in some rare instances, like protection cases. If I was hiding a Jew and a Nazi asked me if I knew where any Jews were hiding - or if I was being asked by a criminal where my wife and/or children were, I have no problem whatsoever lying to protect someone else in that type of situation.)

Here's a common example of what I mean by creative honesty:

If my wife asks if a dress makes her look fat, and if the dress does, in fact, make her look fat, I’ll answer her honestly and say, “Yes, it does.” I’ve been married for almost 30 years, so I have the social capital to answer that direct question honestly. If, however, she says, “How do I look in this dress,” I’m NOT going to say, “Fat!” I’m going to say, “It’s not very flattering” – or something ambiguous like that. If she says, “Do you like this dress,” I’m going to say, “Not really. It does’t bring out your best qualities very well” – or something similar. 

The scriptural reference I would use to highlight this concept (Matthew 10:16) is about missionaries, but I believe it applies to the general principle:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

About "controlled honesty": 

In the temple recommend interview, I can be totally honest in answering the questions the way they are asked – with a “Yes” or “No” – or, in two cases, “Not always, but I try hard.” My more extensive answers (those that detail exactly how I view each question and what my answers mean philosophically to me) might be different than the Bishop’s or Stake President’s – but I don’t care, because the questions don’t ask about that type of difference. They only ask if I believe, do, accept, etc. – with no deeper digging required unless I open the door and give the interviewer the shovel. I have no desire to do that, since I am totally sincere in my simple “Yes” and “No” answers

This principle of controlled honesty is best summarized in the Lord's words in Matthew 5:37:

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Undersatnding God: The Lens of Modern Technology and Embryonic Gods

There are a number of prophecies and general theological statements that become extremely interesting when viewed in terms of modern technology.

Just a few examples to consider: 

1) We now can conceptualize and accept the possibility of the creation of life completely outside of traditional sexual intercourse.  Thus, we can envision Heavenly Parents creating "spirit children" in ways that would have been called science fiction in the past. 

2) We now can conceptualize and accept the possibility of being so inter-connected and aware (satellite news feeds, Facebook, video chat, text messages, etc.) that it is possible to see and know everything that happens around the world - and, by extension, eventually, throughout all creation;

3) We now can conceptualize and accept the possibility of lots of "godly" things that were dismissed as unknowable and mysterious only a relatively short time ago, much less hundreds or thousands of years ago. 

I'm going to say this carefully, but we, as "normal humans", now are closer in some ways to how God has been described in ancient scriptures - and that is both an exhilarating and frightening thing. For example, it's one thing to fight like animals, unaware of the world at large and with little effect on it, but it's another thing entirely to fight like mythological gods, with the literal power to exterminate the entire species (and more) while understanding it is being done.

"Ye are gods, and children of the Most High God" is more understandable now than at any previous point in history.  The central question for me is:

What kind of gods will we be - or, through our actions, who will be able to say:

I am the God of this world. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why I Don't Worry about the End of the World

A belief in the Second Coming obviously is not just a Mormon or modern belief. It is clear in the Old and New Testaments, as well as in the Book of Mormon - and lots of non-Christian texts, as well. People all throughout history have thought their time was so wicked that the world would be destroyed. We (modern Christians, not just Mormons) have reinterpreted Biblical warnings about "the last days" to be about our time, but they weren't seen that way when they were written and spoken back in the day. At that time, the warnings weren't seen as being about a long-future time; they were about the immediate or relatively near future. 

I don't believe strongly this is the beginning of the end - but I believe we now have more power to cause the end than humans ever have possessed. In that regard, I understand modern millennial prophecies and beliefs well enough not to ridicule and dismiss them. We have the capability of annihilating ourselves, so end time prophecies make more sense now than they have at any other point in history. 

Also, it can be useful to understand that our individual earthly end is near - but that reading is based on a recognition that classic end-of-the-world prophecies have not been accurate for thousands of years. It's a productive repackaging of the statements, if you will, so I have no problem whatsoever with it and have used it on occasion, but it still is a repackaging. 

When it comes to "the end times", my own standard is, "No man knoweth the time" - so I can chalk up everything else as generalized messages about preparing for the end of the world, whether that be my own life or the literal end of human existence on this earth.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Faith and Uncertainty vs. Doubt and Certainty

I will never "teach doubt" - but I teach the need to accept uncertainty and limited knowledge, and the subsequent need for inquiry and searching, all the time. Teaching doubt simply means teaching people to close their minds and avoid exploration and wait for others to do their searching and deciding and, as a result, allow someone else to do their acting for them.  Ironically, teaching doubt, in the end, is exactly like teaching certainty - and that ought to be contemplated in theological terms much more than it tends to be. 

I know it's not the exact same thing, but I've seen cynicism destroy people's lives - and it is ugly. I prefer to teach things related to doubt in a positive, solution-oriented way - so my approach is to acknowledge the universal nature of doubt / uncertainty / ambiguity / non-understanding / whatever and "teach" positive approaches to deal with and gain from it. In other words, I teach about the unavoidable existence of uncertainty (which sometimes is called "doubt") and its ability to encourage growth, but I actively teach constructive, productive ways to negate its potentially harmful effects.

Especially in matters of religion, that allows me to teach in a way that doesn't dismiss statements like, "Doubt not; fear not" - or anything else that casts doubt in a negative light. I can say, "Yes, doubt (a foundational attitude of disbelief) can keep someone from the benefits of faith (a foundational attitude of belief)." Even the scientific model is based on a willingness to believe that research of the unknown can produce new knowledge - and, at the heart, that is a vital, non-religious application of the core concept of faith.

Also, it's easier, always, to teach an extreme - on either end. It doesn't take much effort at all to do that. Thus, the extremes - on both ends - get taught more often than a more comprehensive understanding of the "perfect" (complete, whole, fully developed) concept and principle.

Anyone can "teach doubt" or "teach faith" in isolation. Not everyone can teach how they are inter-related - meaning not everyone can teach "eternal progression" and how both uncertainty and faith are integral to it. The ideal isn't to teach one of the extremes; the ideal is to teach the perfect concept. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Teaching Faith Relative to Doubt and Uncertainty

When I teach about faith, I draw a distinction between doubt and uncertainty - and between doubting and questioning / seeking.

To me, "doubt" is used in the scriptures often as a verb ("to doubt") or to describe an orientation/mindset ("Doubting Thomas"), and it doesn't mean to be uncertain, to question or to seek. It means to have a disbelieving mindset - to start from a foundation of, "I have to see to believe," rather than, "I can believe while I question and seek, until I find evidence that leads me not to believe." Doubt is the suspension of belief amid uncertainty; faith is the suspension of disbelief amid uncertainty. Viewed that way, they are polar opposites.  Uncertainty isn't bad or evil in any way - unless it becomes a default setting that hardens into intractable doubt and removes one's ability to move forward amid uncertainty.  Acting on hope amid uncertainty is the non-religious term for the principle of faith.

Thus, I'm not a doubter; I'm a believer.

When I try to understand and decide what I believe and don't believe, I don't focus first on trying to figure out what I don't believe; I focus first on figuring out what I do believe. Once I figure out what I do believe, I don't doubt everything else. Rather, I simply don't believe it at that time - with the understanding that I might believe some of it at some point in the future as I continue to hone what I do believe.

I see doubt as restrictive and constricting; I see faith as liberating and empowering; I see questioning and seeking as essential - and doubt undermines that process. It's a subtle difference, but it's an important one to me, since it influences my attitude more than just about anything else of which I'm aware.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My Sacrament Meeting Talk: Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ

I spoke in a small branch today, and a sister in my ward was the other speaker. I asked her to  read  Pres. Wixom's talk Sunday morning and Pres. Uchtdorf's talk in the Priesthood session and speak about whatever she took from them.

She shared two stories: one about a relative who was away from the Church for years due to a really bad experience with some members and a local leader and one about herself and her struggles to accept that she doesn't get answers to prayers like most people who speak and teach and lead in the Church. It was heartfelt, personal and moving.

I changed my talk almost completely as I was sitting on the stand during the meeting. The assigned topic was "Faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ", and I prepared a talk combining elements of talks in General Conference from Pres. Uchtdorf, Elder Holland and Elder Nielson. As I sat on the stand and looked at everyone in the chapel (about a dozen people), I decided to scrap that talk and talk about two things, primarily: looking at who Jesus was as a mortal and whom he served during his ministry.

I mentioned that Jesus was born in a manger/stable/barn/grotto cave, that his father worked with his hands (that he wasn't a doctor or lawyer or professor but a carpenter), that his mother was (almost surely) an unwed teenager, that he was moved to and raised in Egypt (in order to escape Herod's rage), that he returned in a way as an outsider or foreigner, that he grew up in Nazareth (of which the Old Testament includes a question asking if any good thing can come out of Nazareth), etc. in almost every way, he would not have been accepted as an insider by the "important" people of his time.

I pointed out that when it came time for his ministry he served others like himself in some way: the outcast, the sick, the diseased, the obvious sinner, the poor, the hated and marginalized.

I repeated Pres. Uchtdorf's description of church as a repair shop, not a showroom, and I talked about how we all are fallen, failing, broken, etc. in some way and how we should be able to come to church for help being repaired/healed. I said we exercise faith in Jesus when we recognize ourselves as needing repair and accept other broken vessels to meet with us, no matter the nature of their brokenness - when our congregations are not just geographic wards (and branches) but also hospital wards.

I summarized the degrees of glory as conditions of the heart: unrepentant Telestial, no real effort Terrestrial and best effort Celestial. I explained that nothing in the descriptions includes a required checklist of actions but, instead, focuses on effort only. I talked about the statement, "We  know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do," with a reference to Pres. Uchtdorf, and rearranged the statement to say what he taught, "(Even) after all we can do, we know that we (still) are saved by grace."

I ended with the parable of the sower and simply pinted out that the good soil produced different amounts of fruit, some thirty, some sixty and some a hundred. Again, it wasn't the amount produced that mattered, since ALL of it was called good, but simply that it produced good fruit. I told them that having faith in Jesus, at the most basic level, is about accepting that he will call us good if we do our best to produce good fruit, no matter how much we end up producing. It isn't about numbers; it is about loving effort, recognizing and accepting that we already have been saved by God's grace and will inherit the ultimate divine glory simply for trying to follow Jesus' example and love and serve ourselves and others.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Real Faith Cannot Be Built by Using Borrowed Light

Faith is built on what is hoped but can't be seen. Unfortunately, that can lead some people to not worry about seeing anything - or even denying what should be easily visible. It's easy to forget that belief in what can be seen but is not faced is not empowering faith in the purest sense (since the Book of Mormon adds the interesting disclaimer, "which are true") - like someone who continues to believe the world is flat when there is so much evidence to the contrary.  Of course, that can be a tricky thing to say, since many people insist they know, with absolute certainty, some things that might not be fully knowable, but it still is a good thing to remember.  Believing something does not make it correct - and merely believing something does not constitute faith. 

How then should someone of faith help someone else have faith, as well?

We all see through a glass, darkly, but glasses need to be prescription to work better than whatever we have now, and it's really hard for one person to find the right prescription for someone else - especially in an area that is as subjective and individualized as faith.  Therefore, I believe it is most important to encourage others to consider carefully and ponder deeply what they personally believe (independent of what others believe) and, if they are unsure, help them build their own individual faith.  Building faith, ultimately, must be a personal journey, based on what one person sees, does not see and hopes - and, until it is tackled individually, faith is illuminated solely by borrowed light. 

I will attempt to lend light to someone who desires to see, but, ultimately, I must encourage them to put aside my light and search for and find their own - even if that means they end up seeing some things (even things I hold dear) differently than I do.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Fallacy of "God Wouldn't Let Me (____________)"

There are two basic ways we can try to avoid responsibility for our actions, and they are summarized in the following formats:

The devil made me do it.  

God wouldn't let me do it, if He didn't want it to happen.  

I believe both of these formats circumvent agency and are not consistent with Mormon theology. 

As to the second phrasing, the one we tend to hear more within our own faith community, it is no different than if a child said:

My parents wanted me to have a cookie, or they would have put the jar in a place where I couldn't get to it.

At some point, we need to stop being merely children of God, grow up and become adults/heirs of God. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Life Isn't about God Reaching out to Us

As a history teacher by training, I am convinced that the world has been the world and that evil has been evil pretty much throughout history.  I don't think "the world" is worse now than it has been in the past, especially when I look back and see every bad now in other times.  Modern technology has made the scope of availability of evil larger, and we are able to know about more now than ever before, but there is so much more good in many ways in our current world that didn't exist in other times, as well. 

The only important difference I see concerning the nature of good and evil has been the attitudes of certain people at certain times in certain places that transcended history and created something unique and special. The City of Enoch is a great example of this, and even that can be viewed, with real meaning, as either a literal occurrence or a mythological parable which we should strive to recreate. 

What I take from this is that my life and purpose is not about how things used to be; it's about how things can be, if we make them be different than they naturally will be.

In that sense, primarily, this life isn't about God reaching out to us and promising a glorious future in another world; it's about us (gods) reaching out to each other (gods) and collectively establishing Zion in the here and now.

I think that's the greatest lesson we can take from the life of Jesus, of Nazareth, as well.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dealing with the Storms of Life: I Hope We Dance

I heard a somewhat cheesy statement years ago, one that perhaps everyone else here has heard already, but I came across it again today and thought I should share it here:

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain.

When we are going through a "crisis" or "transition" or "trial" of any kind (a "storm of life"), we can rail against the causes of those storms - or we can figure out how to dance in the rain. 

How each of us dances will vary as much as dances vary in the world.  In fact, I dare say there are as many kinds of unique dances than there are unique kinds of storms.  "Enduring" doesn't have to mean "looking down and plodding forward"; it also means "lasting" - as in "enduring love".  

Storms drench those who are not sheltered while the rain falls, but storms also cleanse and clean and purify and provide nourishment.  If we can see what we experience as much in terms of "cleansing, nourishing rain" as we do in terms of a "refiner's fire" (understanding there are both, and not all trials burn as they cleanse - that some are meant to wash things away), we can begin to identify those situations that burn and those situations in which it is possible to dance. 

I hope, as much as possible, we choose to dance.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Called of God" vs. "Inspried of God" or "Leading of God" or "Acting for God" or "Being Godly"

I think whether or not a particular leader (or anyone serving in any calling) is "called of God" depends largely on whether the person doing the calling is "inspired of God" and/or "acting for God" - and, frankly, whether there's a need for God to be involved to some degree, for some reason, in the calling. Those are two very subjective, difficult to determine criteria - so I don't spend a lot of emotional capital on trying to figure it out in most cases. I also think it doesn't matter much if someone is called of God if they wind up not "leading of God" or "being godly".

However, I have experienced situations where I absolutely believe the calling was "of God" (meaning directed by God) - and, interestingly, one of those cases was when the person turned down the calling.  He said he wasn't ready for such a calling but needed the assurance that God knew his heart and was willing to answer a private prayer asking to know if he could serve God in a formal calling if he changed his life in the way he knew he should. I had struggled mightily with trying to figure out who should be asked, and I questioned the answer I got even more when I learned about the man's situation. I didn't know him as anything but a name on a page, and what I heard about him before our meeting didn't ease my concerns. When I left, however, I was humbled that his name had jumped out at me so forcefully. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

What Is "the church"? Listening to Others Is Important

I have had nearly innumerable conversations, over a long period of time, in which someone will mention "the church" - or "The Church".  I always try to focus intently in those conversations to understand exactly what the person means when they say that, since it isn't clear immediately in many cases.  Aside from the difficulty in speaking about a collective body as if it was monolithic, I simply want to point out the following possibilities for what someone might mean when they speak of "the church".

1. a building designed for public forms of worship, esp Christian worship
2. an occasion of public worship
3. the clergy as distinguished from the laity  (regular membership)
4. (usually capital) institutionalized forms of religion as a political or social force: conflict between Church and State
5. (usually capital) the collective body of all Christians
6. (often capital) a particular Christian denomination or group of Christian believers
7. (often capital) the Christian religion

There is value and difficulty in each of the definitions above, but I think it's critical to understand and remember that when one person says "the church" or "The Church" that person often means one of the above definitions, while the person hearing it often thinks of a different definition. That alone causes as much confusion and disagreement as anything else.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sustaining Leaders Includes Helping Them Know When They Are Wrong

First, I think it generally is impossible to "fully" sustain each and every person in their callings and "fully" sustain each leader, especially since there are multiple "leaders" relative to each member. We simply have too many people we agree to sustain and support to do so fully in every case.  Thus, we have to choose how we sustain each person, even if, for some, that means all we do is refrain from actively making it harder for them to do what they have been called to do - which, in some cases, includes biting our tongues. 

I fully sustain my leaders, but I do that in some cases by saying no to some things (since saying yes would put me in a situation where I wouldn't be able to do other important things) and also by expressing disagreement when I feel it is important to do so, especially when I believe they will "fall" or "fail" if they pursue a particular path or program. (See the definitions in yesterday's post.)  In cases where I believed a plan was way out of line (only a very few times in multiple decades), I even have told leaders I wouldn't fight them but I also wouldn't support the plan publicly. I also sustain my leaders sometimes by shutting up and letting them do what they want to do without opposition, when I don't agree with them but I think what they want to do will not be overly damaging in the aggregate.

Sustaining is more complicated than most members understand, I believe
- and I am comfortable using "most members" in that phrasing.

I'll share a non-church issue from a few years ago that illustrates this point:

I didn't live in Utah. I lived in a school district that had a relatively small Mormon population. All of the parents of kids in one school received a voice message saying that the principal was concerned about the dress code and, specifically, how tight the pants were that some kids were wearing to school - "especially the girls". This principal is not Mormon, but he could have been. The principle would have been the same. 

I immediately called the school, the district office and a school board member and expressed my deep concern about that message. I told them that I couldn't think of an appropriate way to "measure" compliance with tightness of pants, and I also was concerned about the legal implications of any attempt to enforce a specific standard - as well as the license it would give to perverts to approach young girls and comment on their bodies in the name of enforcing the dress code. I told them that I was sharing my concerns because I believed in supporting them in their responsibilities - and I believed the focus was dangerous in multiple ways they might not have considered. I met with a couple of people to clarify and provide more input and to talk about ways to accomplish the goal (which I respected) more appropriately, and they thanked me for my input. 

I believe I was "sustaining" them - far more than I would have been if I had turned off my brain and accepted the message without providing any input. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What Does It Mean to Sustain Our Leaders?

I have had quite a few conversations over the years with people who ask what it means to "sustain and support" leaders.  I have given different answers, depending on the person and the situation, but I want today to provide a straightforward, simple answer, based on the actual dictionary definitions.  I will follow-up tomorrow on one particular aspect mentioned in these definitions which I believe is important but which gets over-looked often.  

To sustain:

1. to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.

This implies helping someone, and the religious organizational example might be the two men who held up Moses' arms during battle. It implies cooperating with someone in what they do and helping them do it. bear (a burden, charge, etc.).

In the Church, this means helping to run the organization - doing something to take a portion of the load off of others, often by assignment ("charge"). This is associated generally with callings.

3. to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding.

This implies standing by someone, often through difficulty.  This has many applications within a church setting.

4. to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, as under trial or affliction.

This deals with providing support of some kind, so another person doesn't fall, fail, etc. This includes constructive criticism and counterpoint, and I have sustained a leader by disagreeing on more than one occasion. In fact, I believe it is impossible to sustain someone fully without understanding and accepting this definition.

5. to keep up or keep going, as an action or process: to sustain a conversation.

This deals with on-going commitment - not just "sustaining" now and then, for whatever reason.

I would appreciate any input about how you view any or all of these aspects of sustaining leaders. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Jesus Won't Save People from Mortal Hell. That Is Our Responsibility.

This is an incredibly powerful, important post.  I hope anyone who reads it doesn't get hung up on arguing about some of the specific wording choices, because the central message is profound. 

I have seen hell, and Jesus won't save us from it - mmiles (By Common Consent)

Monday, April 6, 2015

How I Stay Sane when Dealing with People Who See Things Differently than I Do

I was asked once how I stay sane when dealing with people, especially in church but also elsewhere, who see and do things differently than I do - and more particularly when they are a leader of some kind.  The person who asked already knew about my realization early in life that I see things differently, so he didn't want the typical, initial answer I give to that question.  ("I have been practicing for decades.")  I thought about it, trying to be as brief and concise as possible.  The following is what I eventually told him:

People are people. I don't expect more than that. 

I really do believe that we often over-think things and make them far more complicated than they need to be.  In this case, simply remembering that all of us are human and, therefore, make mistakes (even serious ones), can make sanity a given and free us to find peace and joy. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

"I know the Church is true, even when I wish it wasn't."

One of my local church leaders some time ago shared the following quote from a 16-year-old's testimony in a previous Stake Conference:

"I know the Church is true, even when I wish it wasn't."

The person who said it was struggling with some aspects of the Church, including attending regularly, but he had received an answer to a prayer that "the Church is true". He was saying that there were times he wished he hadn't felt what he'd felt, and that he sometimes wished he could just stop attending, but that he still believed what he had felt.

I understand that kind of conflict, although I wouldn't have worded it that way for myself.  Starting when I was about seven, I realized I see things differently than a lot of people. I would have worded it more like,

"I love the Church even while disagreeing with a lot of what others say. I wish more people believed like I do."

The leader who was speaking didn't go into any details of the young man's struggle, other than regular church attendance, but he ended his talk by listing some things he knows - and then he added:

"Even though there are lots of things I don't know and don't understand, I do know those things."

I could nit-pick words and definitions, but it was wonderful to hear the young man's statement affirmed by a church leader, even though his experience and wording was not the same. He is a good man, and his talk was an excellent one. He didn't get into specific concerns and issues in any of his talks, but it is clear he cares about people and understands that members struggle with various things at various times - and that he cares far more about effort and service than about uniformity of thought.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Being Mormon is Hard

Being Mormon is Hard - Adam Greenwood (Junior Ganymede) 

Adam and I don't see eye-to-eye on lots of things, but this post is incredible.  I particularly love his explanation of the lesson we can take from Peter walking on and sinking into the water. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Not an April Fool's Joke, but So Visually Stunning It Almost Seems Fake: Seriously Amazing

As a hardcore marching band geek, I've always know Ohio State's matching band is ridiculously sick, but this . . . Amazing barely scratches the surface, especially when it the moonwalk starts at about 4:40. 

Ohio State University's marching band tribute to Michael Jackson on the 25th Anniversary of the release of "Bad"