Tuesday, October 27, 2015

True Maturity: A Beautiful Statement from Someone Acquainted with Grief and Pain

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.”

Eleanor Roosevelt (It Seems to Me: Selected Letters)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My Talk Today on Marriage and Family

I was assigned to talk today about Marriage and Family. The following is the general outline and content of my talk:

First, at the risk of further embarrassing your good Bishop, I appreciate the mistake he made earlier when he announced the wrong opening hymn. I have made far worse mistakes from the pulpit, and those mistakes actually are a good introduction to the topic I have been assigned.

Second, I don't want this talk to be a downer in any way, but I have felt impressed to address my topic in a way that will not be traditional and might seem depressing at first. I hope this approach was inspired and can help someone here today in some way.

There are a lot of tension points in the Church and the Gospel that deal with our desire to teach what we see as the ideal while living lives that are not ideal. We say there is opposition in all things, but I'm not sure we understand how true that is. As an example, we teach that reverence, including quietude, is important for proper worship, but we also bring our little children with us to our worship services each week - and we all know those two things often are incompatible.

Ideal vs. Reality (caterpillar / butterfly)

I love the analogy of a caterpillar to resurrection and the Atonement (a creature that lives, seems to die and then emerges as a whole new, beautiful creature), but I have been struck by another application of caterpillars as metaphors for our lives. We often describe caterpillars as "ugly" and "worthless" prior to their metamorphosis into butterflies, simply because of our perception of what beauty and worth mean - but caterpillars are of great worth ecologically and can be seen as beautiful in a very real way by those who are willing to see them that way. How we talk about them is dependent totally on our view of them, NOT on anything objective about their individual lives.

It is important to accept and value the caterpillars as caterpillars and not just future butterflies - and this applies directly to my topic today: marriage and family.

1) I have been blessed greatly in the area of marriage and family (described that a bit), but I know many faithful, sincere, wonderful, worthy members who have struggled in many ways with their marriages and family situations. Let me tell you about a few of them.

a) Sister Renlund (from "Just Call Me Ruth") - only having one child in a Church culture that can be dismissive and even derisive toward those with no children or only one child.

b) friend whose husband got addicted to prescription medication and ruined his life and their marriage, causing her to become a single mother who heard (along with her children) over and over again in church how broken and non-ideal her life and family was.

c) friend in her 50's who has never married and hears regularly that she is lacking worth as an ideal Mormon woman because she is not a mother.

d) young man who is one of the most talented, good-looking, smart, kind-hearted, Christian people I know who walked out of church one day and never returned because a high counselor said people like him (gay) are enemies and are destroying the world. This young man believes he has no realistic chance to have our ideal marriage and family.

e) a dedicated Relief Society President who finally left the man she had married in the temple who subjected her to years of terrible abuse.

I have no idea why I have been blessed so much in this regard, but I do know it has nothing to do with being more righteous or better in any way than those without the blessings I have experienced. What I have come to believe about marriage and family, given my exposure to so much suffering and fervent faith of others, is the heart of my talk today.

I appreciated the intermediate hymn today, "Where can I turn for peace?" I believe we have two places to which we can turn: the divine (our Heavenly Parents and Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer) and to each other. I want to focus on our responsibilities to each other with regard to marriage and family.

1) Help each other become what we desire to become (Perfect = complete, whole, fully developed) in our own unique situations and as a community, no matter the structure of our individual marriages and families.

2) The ideal of the Proclamation to the World (equal partners, helping each other in all aspects of marriage), applies to our interactions with everyone, not just to spouses.

3) Ward as family (hospital ward and automobile repair shop)

4) Advice to those with "ideal" and "non-ideal" families

a) To those who struggle, listen to those who express gratitude for family and marital blessing with kindness and charity, even when those expressions sometimes hurt. We don't mean to hurt others in those situations, and it is important to express thanks and gratitude. As a friend once said, "Bear my joy a while."

b) To those who don't struggle, express thanks for your blessings but be aware of those who might be hurt by your words. Accept them and their lives as valuable and worthy, and never, ever, ever judge them personally based on their situations. Truly, there but for the grace of God go you, and they have much to teach and contribute to you personally and the Church as a whole.

Seeing all as children of God (why we call each other brothers and sisters) - Atlanta temple experience when the Lord was black

Zion is possible within our ward families, but it is possible only when we see each other as beautiful caterpillars, first and foremost, and we love and serve each other no matter what, without exception. Each of us is loved by God right now, for who we are, not just for whom we may become. As we come to church, often carefully clothed and groomed and made-up in ways that mask our struggles and brokenness, may we see past those facades and love each other in that same way - for our humanity and not despite it. May we model among ourselves as a ward what marriage and family are meant to be ideally.

That is one way we can comfort those who stand in need of comfort rather than heaping more discomfort upon their heads. That is one way we can talk of marriage and family in a way that uplifts and heals rather than oppresses and hurts. That is the heart of the Gospel of Jesus, of Nazareth - true, deep, unconditional love, acceptance and service.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Am Blessed

I have six months to get used to the idea of being married to a grandmother.

Life is good.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Humility: Every Person Is a Diary

Every man is a diary . . . he writes one story while intending to write another. His humblest moment is when he compares the two." - J. M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Seven Years of Daily Posts Has Come to an End

Since I started this blog in September 2007, I have written over 2200 posts. At first, I wrote fairly long posts every two-three days; for the last seven years, I have written shorter posts every weekday and longer posts many Saturdays.

I knew the time would come when I couldn't continue at that pace, and yesterday was the first weekday in over seven years when I didn't post something. I'm not sure right now how I will move forward with this blog, but I hope to be able at least to keep the schedule I used when I started of at least two posts each week.

I have enjoyed tremendously recording the things of my soul and will continue to do so. I have spent no effort trying to employ any sort of marketing strategies to maximize the traffic here, so I appreciate greatly those who have found this blog, commented on the posts and, in some cases, formally followed my thoughts here. Thank you, sincerely, for your thought and comments over the years. They have meant and continue to mean the world to me.

If my words have helped you in any way, I am humbled by that. All I ask in that case is that you share this site with others who also might be helped in some way. With well over 2000 posts, I think I have written about most topics someone would associate with Mormonism, specifically, and religion, generally.

It has been a joyous daily walk along my individual path of faith, and I have loved walking it with all of you.

See you sometime next week.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries

Wilfried Decoo is one of my favorite Mormon bloggers.  Some of the most profound posts I've read in my life about Mormon life come from him.  The following is profound, and the comment thread is very good, as well. 

"Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries" - Wilfried Decoo (Times & Seasons)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Personal Limitations: We Won't Be Stuck Like This Forever

One of the reasons I hold onto the concept of a redemption and the way it is framed in Mormonism is that there is a clear statement (at least to me) of bedrock faith that we will not be punished in any way for those things we don't choose - and that we won't be "stuck like this forever" when it comes to those things we don't like about ourselves. It's termed as not being punished for Adam's transgression in the 2nd Article of Faith - and I think it's instructive that it is the second one on the list - that it's right after the statement of belief in God and BEFORE the statement about the Atonement of Christ and obedience to laws and ordinances.

Think seriously about that, please. Our first few Articles of Faith are composed in the following order:

1) the existence of the Godhead;

2) no punishment for those things that simply are a part of mortality that aren't chosen by us and, therefore, aren't "sins";

3) atonement (by implication, for "sins") through obedience (by implication, to things we are capable of obeying).

That's a fascinating, compelling, wonderful arrangement.

I know it might not help much in the exact moment of greatest pain, but, at the very least, for me, it is an amazing concept - that ALL of those things we list as our natural obstacles in life will not be held against us in ANY way when all is said and done. When all is said and done, our efforts to change some of them will be rewarded, no matter the degree to which we are (or feel) "successful". I see that as the core of the "truth (that) shall make you free" - that we are loved for who we are and that we will be allowed to escape these mortal limitations - not just in the next life, but in this life (when talking about things we can change) and in the next life (when talking about things that really are beyond our control here in mortality).

To any who read this who are struggling to deal with a particular unchosen trial of mortality: 

God continue to bless you in your efforts, but, most of all, may you find peace in those efforts and an acceptance of yourself as you are - even as you strive to be more what you want to be. This is one case where I think the statement "well done, thou good and faithful servant" applies perfectly - when "enduring to the end" means something deep, wonderful and inspiring.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Using the Book of Mormon: Personal Soapbox Alert

Last Monday, I wrote a post about how we often misunderstand the Book of Mormon.  This post is a follow-up of that one.  

I have no problem with the statement that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. I just accept that characterization for a different reason than most people.   

When it was used as the keystone ("Here is Moroni's promise. Read this book from cover to cover with that promise in mind. Follow that promise. THEN, when you've done that, we'll start teaching doctrine."), missionary work flourished the most. When we started using it as a doctrinal proof-text and started focusing on teaching doctrine over converting spiritual experiences, missionary work flourished the least.

I know people who were converted to Mormonism through the Bible, and nearly every unique aspect of Mormon theology is grounded more in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon (which far too few members realize), but I know so many people whose subsequent reading of the Bible was influenced by what they read in the Book of Mormon - who "gained a testimony" of the Book of Mormon then had totally new insights as they read the Bible. After all, the Book of Mormon says in at least two places that it's primary intent is to convince people to believe the Bible - and, in my opinion, that means believing what the Bible actually teaches, not what centuries of theologians and religionists have said it teaches.

I believe the Book of Mormon does what it was intended to do very well, when used as it says it should be used - not for every single person, since nothing works for everyone, but generally. I think we as a people might understand that better if we actually used it "correctly" as a "correcting tool" - again, not with regard to doctrine but rather with regard to "spiritual orientation" or the opening of "spiritual eyes" to possibilities that have been hidden by centuries of denial.

To say it in a slightly different way:

In more than once passage, the Book of Mormon itself says that, ultimately, the Bible is more important than the Book of Mormon. I believe that message is loud and clear in the Book of Mormon - but it doesn't contradict the idea that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. The Book of Mormon can be the keystone while allowing the Bible to be the most important theological treatise (the record "held up" by the Book of Mormon) - which is how I would classify the two if I was trying to be concise. In other words, the Book of Mormon says as much about the worth of the Bible as it does about the role of Joseph Smith - although it does address that role, obviously.

The core intent of the Book of Mormon is to teach and testify of Jesus, the Christ. I don't think there is any reasonable dispute about that. However, I believe that this goal is accomplished differently than too many members realize.

The structure of the Book of Mormon (especially Moroni 10:3-5) is laid out in such a way that people who read it will believe that God can and will speak to them (let them know the truth of all things) - and that such a recognition will allow them then to read the Bible and understand and believe what it really says (primarily about God, their relationship to God and what the "power of godliness" really entails). In other words, the Book of Mormon allows people to read the Bible with "new spiritual eyes" through which the "mists of darkness" caused by centuries of Christian apologetics can be overcome and people can understand who they really are.

To say it differently, much of the grand theology of the Bible has crashed and burned since the Bible was written and canonized (and even before then). The "keystone" allows that theology to be rebuilt firmly; it "holds it together" not because of the words themselves contained in it but because of the process generated by the concept it teaches of a Father God who actually will communicate with his children and, subsequently, when re-reading the Bible, teach them of their "divine worth".

A core failure of our current approach at the local membership level, in my opinion, is both a lack of understanding of the Book of Mormon's role in that process (and what the Book of Mormon actually says) and a lack of understanding of the Bible and what it actually teaches. When we short-circuited and altered how we study, view and use the Book of Mormon, I believe we started losing the former respect for and understanding of the Bible that LDS members used to have.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ward Boundaries and Divorce: Irreconcilable Differences vs. Tolerance and Charity

I like the use of geographic boundaries to define wards and branches. I know there are issues in individual cases, and I know it causes grief sometimes, and I have NO problem whatsoever with people attending another ward, where geographically possible, in cases where real harm is occurring . . . but I really like that the default is geographic boundaries, rather than allowing people to congregation shop.

There is an element of learned tolerance and charity in having to try to worship with people who wouldn't normally be one's associates that I don't want to lose. I don't want us to adopt the individual salvation of much of the rest of Christianity; I want to maintain the principle that Zion is the goal and that "atonement" is a communal process. Those things are jeopardized when people can change congregations for any reason whatsoever - like "irreconcilable differences" now means almost nothing in divorces. Divorces should occur when there truly are irreconcilable differences, so I'm fine with people changing wards and branches in truly exceptional circumstances, but I want it to happen only in those exceptional circumstances where there really are irreconcilable differences no matter how hard the person tries to make it work. In other words, I don't want "common problems" to morph into "irreconcilable differences" - and I am positive that would happen without the geographic boundary default.

As a rule, I don't like making policies (in anything, not just the Church) based on exceptions. I like allowing exceptions in exceptional situations, not changing the default based on exceptional situations.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Seeing People as "Too" Something

“Sometimes we have what I call the Too Syndrome. We feel that there are some people we can’t really extend full acceptance to because they are too something--too old, too young, too liberal, too conservative, too rich, too poor, too educated, too uneducated, too rigid in religious observances, too lax. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, if the traveler who fell among thieves was like other Jews of his time, he felt that Samaritans were too ethnically impure to worship in the temple; I don’t think he felt that the wine and the oil poured on his wounds were too Samaritan, do you?” 

Chieko Okazaki, "Aloha," p. 98-99