Sunday, December 13, 2015

"How do I measure up in comparison?"

One of the sweetest young men I know asked me this question the other day:
"Sometimes I feel bad and critical of myself because I haven't gone on a mission (yet..?) while my brothers, dad, mom, sister, uncles, cousins, great-grandpa and whoever else has. Is that normal?"
And of course, it is normal. It is universally normal. 

We all tend to measure ourselves against those around us; using others as a "yardstick" to determine our own stature by comparison, value by correlation, typicality by juxtaposition is human nature. 

Generally, however it is not helpful or beneficial to do this. The very definition of "comparison" is "the quality of being similar or equivalent" which NONE OF US are. Not just because of the dramatic ways that our individual DNA has turned us out the way we are, or how our childhoods, experiences, and effects of societal conditioning have shaped us -- but because by the very design of God, we are different:
1 Corinthians 12:18-22
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary
In other words, God has established, in his wisdom and love, that we are all distinct members of a single body, his family. Through our differences we have dissimilar abilities, dissimilar purposes, and dissimilar substance. We are not similar or equivalent, i.e. "equal another in value, amount, function, meaning, etc." Yet we are all necessary, we all belong, and we are all equally loved.

How would it be for an eye to measure its value or ability to function by comparing itself to a hand when they are so different? How would either the hand or the eye gain a real understanding of their individual meaning by contrasting and measuring themselves to something that is, does, and means something totally different?

This is purposeful on God's part because this life is about learning to let go of comparing and instead to gauge your substance, your worth, and your path via your own spiritually guided sense of self and what you learn is God's will for you.

It isn't easy though.

Essentially human beings make sense of the world by comparing. We take something and examine how it is similar and different to everything else in order to understand it. This is sometimes referred to as "meaning cues" or what we have learned from life experiences. For example, "meaning is held in memories," in what children have seen, heard, lived thus far, therefore new learning "should make sense in comparison to what they know, or understand, about their world" (source). I think that's why we do this same comparison to our "selves" too. We are trying to make sense of the world by seeing what others are/do and then taking from that a definition of right/wrong, good/bad, success/failure etc.

In responding to that initial question at the beginning of this post, I told him that I believe missions can be great for people. I am glad I went because of how it changed me and made me better. But, it also hurt me in some ways. (Just last night I had a mission PTSD dream! I woke up anxious and it lasted most of the morning.)

Despite this, and other drawbacks, for me the pros outweigh the cons. I don't think that is true for everyone who goes... For this reason, I often feel that it is unfortunate that our culture puts so much pressure on young people to go on missions, and especially to go on missions right away. I don't think that a mission is the "right thing" for everyone, even with all the good it offers, and I especially don't think it is the right thing for everyone at the VERY YOUNG age of 18 or 19. 

Some people NEED to wait. (My dad did! But there was less pressure and it was less of a big deal to wait back then.) And, while I could get in some trouble for saying this, some people are better off not going at all (though I think that should be a decision made as a result of a lot of soul searching and guidance from God). 

But, back to comparisons: No matter what someone decides on this issue, to go on a mission or to not go, they will inevitably face societal judgements and pressures -- as well as inner doubt, fear, and inadequacy. (I have all kinds of stories on this topic...) And dealing with those types of situations and feelings are just part of making ANY big life decision because they all bring the seemingly inevitable comparisons.

I've noticed that in my own life, having a strong spiritual confirmation is often the only thing I have to hold onto in the face of great inner uncertainty and the pressure of outer expectations. So I rely on the experience of having the spirit confirm to me a choice.

...And sometimes there isn't even that...and I just have to step out into "the dark" and trust that no matter what happens God will make good out of my choice.

I believe most of our life choices (to go on missions, to go to college, to move here or there, to have kids, to take a certain job, etc etc) are NOT a matter of right and wrong. God can and will make good out of whatever we use our agency to choose, because he loves us. I think this is a big part of what the Atonement is.

Obviously certain choices lead to certain consequences (and consequences can make the choice seem "good" or seem "bad") but consequences are just the result of living in a world where there is cause and effect and anyway, this is how we learn! Experience and understanding, whether it is hard or happy or whatever is GOOD (It's the purpose of life!) 

Learning how to let go of comparing is the best step to self-worth and peace, but it is a lifelong lesson. 

First is learning to keep our eye set on God. That means not looking side to side at each other, but letting our "eye be single to [God's] glory, [that our] whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in [us]; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things" -- including our own individual worth and path (D&C 88:67). 

Second is remembering that in this life we "see through a glass, darkly" but there will come a time when we wont just "know in part" but will "know even as also [we are] known" (1 Corin. 13:12). God will reveal to us, line upon line, who we truly are and the our worth as individual members -- and we will see our selves as he sees us: without any type of comparison and uniquely precious and uniquely enough.

We "measure up" not because of how we are "similar or equivalent" to others, but because we are unique and because God loves us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

emotional health and power

It's been a long time since I posted anything here.

Not because I haven't thought of things to write about -- because I have thought of a million things! I've read so many words that resonated and so much has happened! But... I was lazy.

I actually deeply regret that I didn't write about those million things, because it seems my thoughts, feelings, and insights, when left unrecorded or unprocessed through writing, seem to fade into faint recollections much faster and more irretrievably than I previously realized.


Today I decided I want to try and leave (cold-turkey!) that lazy fog that's hung around me the last few months. It helps that I have something extra intimate and heavy with personal vulnerability to work through, and this is my best venue. ;)

I've written in the past about feelings and my own struggles to understand my emotional life, and how to push it and myself towards deeper maturation. It's been an ongoing quest. Fortunately, I've had good friends to talk to, spiritual resources that lend insight, and a wealth of experiences in the last few years that have brought a lot of emotional growth via new comprehension and appreciation for the times when I feel all the feels.

One particular resource that, in combination with a few different experience that I will relate momentarily, really had a profound impact was an article from the NY Times entitled "Medicating Women's Feelings" that berated modern society for conditioning women to think that having feelings or being "moody" is undesirable and disabling -- and should be medicated away so that we can achieve the "new normal" of a life that is completely even-keeled. 
"...we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives. We have been taught to apologize for our tears, to suppress our anger and to fear being called hysterical."
Reading the author's argument for the natural and real place in our lives for emotion was liberating and empowering. The idea of embracing emotions which are so often termed as negative as just part of having a whole and complete emotional life i.e. "a healthy, adaptive part of our biology" resonated deeply with me, as did this compelling line that: "Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power."

After reading the article, I could't stop thinking about it, especially these parts: 
"In the days leading up to menstruation, when emotional sensitivity is heightened, women may feel less insulated, more irritable or dissatisfied. I tell my patients that the thoughts and feelings that come up during this phase are genuine, and perhaps it’s best to re-evaluate what they put up with the rest of the month, when their hormone and neurotransmitter levels are more likely programmed to prompt them to be accommodating to others’ demands and needs."
"Crying isn’t just about sadness. When we are scared, or frustrated, when we see injustice, when we are deeply touched by the poignancy of humanity, we cry. And some women cry more easily than others. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or out of control. At higher doses, S.S.R.I.s [medications] make it difficult to cry. They can also promote apathy and indifference. Change comes from the discomfort and awareness that something is wrong; we know what’s right only when we feel it. If medicated means complacent, it helps no one."

The way that I understand this is that while biologically our hormones/emotions often lead us to focus on others' needs most of the time, when those levels shift (due to natural conditions such as PMS) and we are more sensitive, it becomes an opportunity to focus on oneself and learn where we can make changes to improve our overall emotional life. 

For example, it is like how most of the time you don't mind a passive-agressive friend, except when you're sensitive because of circumstance X and then they really get to you. So, you revaluate your friendship with that person -- and perhaps make changes. When we are normally exposed to condition X (an environment, a person, even a TV show) we deal with it, but when we're especially sensitive and it finally gets to to us, it is an opportunity to say: "enough is enough." It's the push to stop exposing ourselves to that subtle wear and tear.

When we feel deep emotions in these sensitive times, it is because we have a special awareness and responsiveness that can serve as a tool for recognizing meaningful experiences, new insight, and opportunities for change and growth. 

This is something I had begun to subtly understand in my own life, but since reading this article has burst open and given me a whole new perspective on my emotional self. For many years, as a teenager and in my early college years, I thought that something was wrong with me. I felt I would go from fine and normal to violently sensitive and without any control of my feelings. I finally identified it as being PMS (and then later as PMDD) and from there was able to begin telling/reminding myself that these mood shifts were the result of hormones and not that something in me was broken and needed fixing. 

This resulted in a lot of emotional development and great degree of stability and peace in my life. However, the monthly experience was still primarily negative until I began noticing that if I controlled what I was exposed to during this time it was significantly less negative. If I watched a good sad movie I could FEEL and CRY and get it all out, and not actually feel "bad." I could purposefully expose myself to touching media and wallow around it all the feelings (often sentimentality) it evoked versus being set-off by unexpected emotional punches. I could have some control!

This is about when I read the above article and finally realized it wasn't just about trying to control how I was going to feel those feels every month. The truth was, those few terrible/wonderful days every month were an opportunity to choose how and what I would feel more deeply than everyday life typically entailed, and glean new insight about those feelings and myself. 

It wasn't just about trying to avoid what could cause downward spiral but learning to identify things in my life that were having a stronger effect on me (even if most of the month I handled them fine) and making adjustments. It wasn't just about avoiding the influence of condition X a few days of the month but recognizing and then managing the influence every day of the month.

I finally realized the experience of my emotions is more than just feels -- and what was once a monthly terror became a regular opportunity to better understand my fears, frustrations, passions, and dreams.

It has also become a chance to choose to take advantage of how deeply and comprehensively I feel things during those days -- and expose myself to conditions and experiences where drinking deeply of those emotions breaks my heart open in new and beautiful ways. As corny as it sounds, for me this means listening to touching and inspiring music, reading poignant and illuminating stories, writing letters to family and friends telling them how much I love them, etc. etc. -- and really thoroughly FEELING all of that. I watch commercials with babies and puppies and I cry. I look at photos from the day I married my husband and I cry. I write blog posts, sorting through insights about my self, and my life and I cry. I cry and it isn't about sadness. 

And while I still experience times when I painfully feel TOO MUCH and it spirals out of control, I do eventually come back to myself and I look back with a newfound ability to learn from those difficult heart-wrenching swings. It helps that as more time passes the balance continues to shift and those times are less and less frequent.

But whatever comes, I get to choose to embrace what I feel and learn knowing that my "emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

a reposting: "in the image of stuff"

Article by Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

In the Image of Stuff

I was on hold the other day trying to schedule an appointment for a hair cut. As I waited for the receptionist, I half-listened to the obligatory recordings. The announcer asked me to consider scheduling a make-over with my upcoming appointment and to make sure I leave with the products that will keep up my new look. (Apparently, when you have a captive audience of customers “muzak” is hardly strategic.)  But I was then caught off guard by a question: “What do the local communities of Chad, Africa, mean to you?”  The answer he offered was as immediate as my inability to think of one:  “Chad is a leading producer of organic acacia gum, the vital ingredient in a new line of products exclusively produced for and available at our salon.”

In a culture dominated by consumption, the commodification of everything around us is becoming more and more of an unconscious worldview. Thus, when we think of Chad, we can think of our favorite shampoo and its connection with our hair salon. The land where it came from, the conditions of its production, and the community or laborers who produce it are realities wholly disassociated with the commodity. Like soap and luggage, the nation of Chad can become just one of the many commodities within our consumer mindset.

As I put down the phone, I couldn’t help but wonder about Amos’s description of those who are “at ease in Zion.” How at ease do you have to be to begin to see the world in commodities?

In fact, at the time of Amos’s words, Israel itself was at one of its most opulent junctures. They had expanded their territory in more than one direction. Their winter palaces were adorned with ivory and their feasts were lacking nothing. They could be heard singing songs to the sound of the harp and seen anointing themselves with the finest of oils. It was in such affluence that the shepherd Amos proclaimed indomitably: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion, and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1).

Though unpopular words to voice, Amos’s omen is far from isolated in ancient Scripture. While Amos compares the drunken women of Israel to the fat cows of Bashan, Micah describes the rich as men full of violence, and Jeremiah cites those with wealth and power as those who grow fat and sleek. Likewise, in the book of Revelation, the church that God wants to spit out of his mouth is the one who has “acquired wealth and needs nothing,” the one who has not realized that they are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

As G.K. Chesterton once noted, “Alas, it is impossible to have any sort of debate over whether or not Jesus believed that rich people were in big trouble—there is too much evidence on the subject and it is overwhelming.”(1) The pervasiveness of this evidence makes for a rough entry into the ongoing debate about the morality of affluence among Western Christians. Like Chesterton, I am at times uncomfortably aware at whom the words of Christ were aimed: I am the rich Christian to whom Jesus speaks bluntly.

I am also among the crowd he takes the time and care to caution. Among his many words about money, Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

How then might we live in a world of affluence? How might we fight the all-pervading atmosphere of consumerism and the attitude of commodification around us? How might we learn again to see our neighbors when they have become invisible behind our mountains of stuff? There is good reason for unrelenting words against the greed that turns communities into commodities and souls into consumers. There is similarly good reason that Christ has called the poor in spirit blessed, for those who cling to the Father know it is God alone they can eternally hold. We were not made to be at ease in Zion any more than we were made in the image of commodity. We were made in the image of God.

This God we now faintly resemble never sleeps or slumbers, perhaps in part because the suffering among us never sleep or slumber. It is this God who calls us to follow and to deny ourselves, to consider the “treasures” that might block our vision of God—as well as our vision of our neighbor. There are none seen as commodities in the eyes of the Creator; there are but children with the eyes of their Father.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

timshell -- the meaning of words

Words have meaning and the words we choose to use matter. As an English major and writing teacher I am obsessed with the purposeful use of language, of cultivating an awareness of what is used by others and why — as well as of your own choices and making sure they are deliberate. (It’s one of my “soapboxes”)

So, here is an example of how different words can have dramatically different implications:
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”
“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”
“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.’ It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”
Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.
Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”
Samuel put his palms down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”
Lee said, “I’m going to tell you. And it’s a fairly long story. Will you have a touch of ng-ka-py?”
“You mean the drink that tastes of good rotten apples?”
“Yes. I can talk better with it.”
“Maybe I can listen better,” said Samuel.
While Lee went to the kitchen Samuel asked, “Adam, did you know about this?”
“No,” said Adam. “He didn’t tell me. Maybe I wasn’t listening.”
Lee came back with his stone bottle and three little porcelain cups so thin and delicate that the light shone through them. “Dlinkee Chinee fashion,” he said and poured the almost black liquor. “There’s a lot of wormwood in this. It’s quite a drink,” he said. “Has about the same effect as absinthe if you drink enough of it.”
Samuel sipped the drink. “I want to know why you were so interested,” he said.
“Well, it seemed to me that the man who could conceive this great story would know exactly what he wanted to say and there would be no confusion in his statement.”
“You say ‘the man.’ Do you then not think this is a divine book written by the inky finger of God?”
“I think the mind that could think this story was a curiously divine mind. We have had a few such minds in China too.”
“I just wanted to know,” said Samuel. “You’re not a Presbyterian after all.”
“I told you I was getting more Chinese. Well, to go on, I went to San Francisco to the headquarters of our family association. Do you know about them? Our great families have centers where any member can get help or give it. The Lee family is very large. It takes care of its own.”
“I have heard of them,” said Samuel.
“You mean Chinee hatchet man fightee Tong war over slave girl?”
“I guess so.”
“It’s a little different from that, really,” said Lee. “I went there because in our family there are a number of ancient reverend gentlemen who are great scholars. They are thinkers in exactness. A man may spend many years pondering a sentence of the scholar you call Confucius. I thought there might be experts in meaning who could advise me.
“They are fine old men. They smoke their two pipes of opium in the afternoon and it rests and sharpens them, and they sit through the night and their minds are wonderful. I guess no other people have been able to use opium well.”
Lee dampened his tongue in the black brew. “I respectfully submitted my problem to one of these sages, read him the story, and told him what I understood from it. The next night four of them met and called me in. We discussed the story all night long.”
Lee laughed. “I guess it’s funny,” he said. “I know I wouldn’t dare tell it to many people. Can you imagine four old gentlemen, the youngest is over ninety now, taking on the study of Hebrew? They engaged a learned rabbi. They took to the study as though they were children. Exercise books, grammar, vocabulary, simple sentences. You should see Hebrew written in Chinese ink with a brush! The right to left didn’t bother them as much as it would you, since we write up to down. Oh, they were perfectionists! They went to the root of the matter.”
“And you?” said Samuel.
“I went along with them, marveling at the beauty of their proud clean brains. I began to love my race, and for the first time I wanted to be Chinese. Every two weeks I went to a meeting with them, and in my room here I covered pages with writing. I bought every known Hebrew dictionary. But the old gentlemen were always ahead of me. It wasn’t long before they were ahead of our rabbi; he brought a colleague in. Mr. Hamilton, you should have sat through some of those nights of argument and discussion. The questions, the inspection, oh, the lovely thinking—the beautiful thinking.
“After two years we felt that we could approach your sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis. My old gentlemen felt that these words were very important too—‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Do thou.’ And this was the gold from our mining: ‘Thou mayest.’ ‘Thou mayest rule over sin.’ The old gentlemen smiled and nodded and felt the years were well spent. It brought them out of their Chinese shells too, and right now they are studying Greek.”
Samuel said, “It’s a fantastic story. And I’ve tried to follow and maybe I’ve missed somewhere. Why is this word so important?”
Lee’s hand shook as he filled the delicate cups. He drank his down in one gulp. “Don’t you see?” he cried. “The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in ‘Thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see. I do see. But you do not believe this is divine law. Why do you feel its importance?”
“Ah!” said Lee. “I’ve wanted to tell you this for a long time. I even anticipated your questions and I am well prepared. Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.
Adam said, “Do you believe that, Lee?”
“Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, ‘I couldn’t help it; the way was set.’ But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There’s no godliness there. And do you know, those old gentlemen who were sliding gently down to death are too interested to die now?”
Adam said, “Do you mean these Chinese men believe the Old Testament?”
Lee said, “These old men believe a true story, and they know a true story when they hear it. They are critics of truth. They know that these sixteen verses are a history of humankind in any age or culture or race. They do not believe a man writes fifteen and three-quarter verses of truth and tells a lie with one verb. Confucius tells men how they should live to have good and successful lives. But this—this is a ladder to climb to the stars.” Lee’s eyes shone. “You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness.”
Adam said, “I don’t see how you could cook and raise the boys and take care of me and still do all this.”
“Neither do I,” said Lee. “But I take my two pipes in the afternoon, no more and no less, like the elders. And I feel that I am a man. And I feel that a man is a very important thing—maybe more important than a star. This is not theology. I have no bent toward gods. But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed— because ‘Thou mayest.’”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"An uncomprehensive, non-authoritative overview of the shifting nature of authority"

The title of this post is that of post done by my good friend and fellow-blogger marleerocker that I want to transcribe here (w/the addition of my comments) because 1. her post is so good and 2. it enabled me to say a few things I've been thinking about lately. (Check it out the original post here and feel free to read more of her awesome posts!)

An uncomprehensive, non-authoritative overview of the shifting nature of authority
Looking at religious or political Facebook arguments through the lens of authority and power struggles can be very useful.

It's impossible to overestimate the impact two consecutive World Wars and decades of living with the threat of nuclear holocaust had on the American psyche. Two catastrophic wars followed by over a decade of living under constant paranoia - Google search the effects of prolonged stress and fear, now apply that to a population of  millions.
When I teach a History class about the 1960's I like to teach it in context of what preceded it. At some point people get tired of being told to be afraid and tired of allowing a few men in power to send millions to the gas chambers and the trenches - and in large measure, the hippie or counter culture revolution that revolved around anti-war sentiment, was a massive shrugging off the weight of this fear and powerlessness. It's important to note that the baby boomers - turned hippies grew into adulthood during the 50's. They had to be affected by the contradiction of the constant presence of threat of war in a time of relative peace with no first hand exposure to a conflict like the ones their parents and grandparents weathered. 
The net result was a deep abiding societal mistrust and contempt for authority.
...that continues to today and permeates political and religious rhetoric.
Would you agree that:

  • A lot of people are worried about the corruption in the government?
  • A lot of people are unwilling to listen to take advice from just anyone?
  • A lot of people are leaving the religions they were raised in?
  • A lot of people subconsciously walk around with the attitude that is the equivalent of saying, "You don' know ME!" unwilling to legitimize opposing viewpoints, criticism or rejection? 
IMHO - The nature of authority has evolved in such a way that it requires a level of consent and compliance unprecedented in human history; and in a connected, affluent society it has never been more difficult to acquire and maintain. 
Everyone wants to be their own authority. I think the Bible describes it well in 2 Timothy:
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
 That being said, shirking the confines of an assumed authority is not necessarily a bad thing.
It's not as if people are disillusioned with authority without strong reason; we are well acquainted with the devastating impact of abuse or misuse of power - you don't have to look far to find child abuse, genocide, police brutality, corporate fraud, etc. And history is riddled with proof that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 
Growing up in the fog of cynicism and witnesses to the human suffering incurred by unbridled and unchecked power, is it any wonder people are unwilling to be vulnerable and to put their trust in power given to other humans?
Furthermore, it turns out that as a free moral agents, challenging authority is a civic duty.
Brigham Young himself said: 
“I am more afraid that this people have so muchconfidence in their leaders that they will not inquire forthemselves of God whether they are being led by him. Iam fearful they settle down in a state of blind security,trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaderswith a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart thepurposes of God in their salvation, and weaken thatinfluence they could give their leaders if they know forthemselves by the revelations of Jesus Christ that theyare led in the right way. Let every man and woman knowby the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselveswhether their leaders are walking in the way the Lorddictates or not.”
Un-examined trust in ANY authority, even one previously found to be moral and correct can lead to moral degeneration and is an abdication of personal responsibility. Use your agency to select which authority you accept in your life, and by all means you should accept it from somewhere.  That being said, I also want to make a case for why every free moral agent should hone their capacity to think critically and evaluate the authority figures and institutions that wield power over their lives and if necessary reject them in part or in full. 
In one of my favorite books, "Choices Under Fire; Moral Dimensions of World War II" the author Michael Bess draws relevant conclusions from a psychological experiment many of you will be familiar with. The experiment consisted of actors hired to be scientists and students and test subjects who were assigned the roll of teacher. They were to administer a test and for each wrong answer give the student a progressively more intrusive and painful "shock". Many of the test subjects protested but persisted under the direction of the scientist who insisted they continue. In short, they were willing to inflict severe harm upon other humans - sometimes past the point of suspected unconsciousness or heart failure - based on the authority they perceived in the person telling them to continue. Bess quotes one subject's response from the actual transcript:
'Mr. Renseeler: No, I can't continue. I'm sorry...I know what shocks do to you. I'm an electrical engineer, and I have had shocks... Experimenter: It is absolutely essential that you continue. Mr. Rensaleer: Well, I won't - not with the man screaming to get out. Experimenter: You have no other choice. Mr. Rensaleer: I do have a choice (Incredulous and indignant.) Why don't I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn't stay there. I can't continue. I'm very sorry. I think I've gone too far already, probably.' 
Here was a classic case of "disruptive empathy" at work. Rensaleer's reliance on critical reason to assess the situation and reject the scientist's assurances; his ability to put himself in the other man's shoes ("I know what shocks do to you"); his appeal to higher moral principles ("If I have to hurt somebody to do that..."); his unshakable confidence in his own free will; his willingness to submit his own behavior to stern moral scrutiny ("I think I've gone too far already")' his forceful rupture of the situations momentum, breaking the facade of normality by crying foul after a certain line had been crossed - all these elements paint a portrait of a highly evolved moral agent..." 
For someone who is religious this can be a very difficult paradox to navigate. How do I submit to religious authority and, at the same time, maintain my ability to evaluate it objectively and reject it if necessary (if only in part)? How do I defend the legitimacy of religious authority in a climate of such resentment and distrust towards it, and at the same time acknowledge that opponents may have valid points since, even in my own religion's history there are copious examples of the misuse and error of authority? 
It requires great effort, personal integrity, humility and honesty to maintain a capacity to fairly scrutinize external authority. That, perhaps, is the work of refining your soul. On the other hand, it takes only self-righteousness and pride to flatly reject OR accept religious authority and then put all of your effort into developing your position with clever arguments and justifications. 
The first step is to be aware. Be aware of biases and the attitudes towards authority that we inherit from our parents and the past. Know enough history to understand why completely submitting to authority is dangerous for you and everyone else, and how disrupting existing power structures can also cause unnecessary societal upheaval. Develop a tolerance for ambiguity and cognitive dissonance. Take a deep breath. Relax. Use the intellectual talent that God has given you, nurture and develop it. Reach for greater knowledge, goodness and wisdom. Above all else love. Peace and love. 
I have a deep appreciation for the idealistic contribution of the "revolutionaries" in the 1960's. Perhaps they fell short of their goal to reshape the world in their own image of community, equality, and peace. But their legacy lives on anytime anyone ever updates their Facebook status to raise difficult questions about the merit and validity of current power structures and whether or not they should be changed.

My response to her post (i.e. our ensuing conversation as of the time I published this post):

  1. So many thoughts!

    First of all: "Growing up in the fog of cynicism and witnesses to the human suffering incurred by unbridled and unchecked power, is it any wonder people are unwilling to be vulnerable and to put their trust in power given to other humans?" THIS IS SO TRUE. I think about it a lot because of how exposed we are (thanks to the internet) to the world (to good things like funny cat videos and to bad things like ISIS beheadings). Every day almost the entire world is on display and I am bombarded by human suffering via news articles, facebook posts, email fwds, etc. It certainly makes me retreat back into my protective habit of just not clicking, not reading, not listening to things -- as well as to feel more and more helpless and hopeless. (Some days it seems there just aren't enough "Faith In Humanity Restored" articles to make up for all the "I Don't Want To Live On This Planet Anymore" articles.)

    Secondly, this post totally resonated with my thoughts on how often we tend to either give up personal responsibility to follow authority blindly OR totally abandon all authority to live solely on our own personal compass. Why? Because it is EASIER than having to always figure out who to follow, what to listen to, and how to align our sense of right/wrong with what we are told. That is a lot of work! If we just blindly follow we don't have to put for any effort to validate what we are told and we have someone to blame other than ourselves when everything goes sour (no personal responsibility there!). Also, just letting go of authority makes everything so subjective, so there is less need to worry about being "right" so much as feeling good. Again, less work to do and less weight of significance. I think this is why things are getting more and more polarized -- more and more people are just giving up and taking the path of least resistance.

    Which leads me to your statement "It requires great effort, personal integrity, humility and honesty to maintain a capacity to fairly scrutinize external authority. That, perhaps, is the work of refining your soul. On the other hand, it takes only self-righteousness and pride to flatly reject OR accept religious authority and then put all of your effort into developing your position with clever arguments and justifications."

    Someone once told me they despised apologetics for this reason -- that it is basically just people trying to justify their position. In a way, I have begun to agree with this because I can see how people will decide to stick to an authority based solely on the fact that it is an authority, without personal effort to explore and question, and then from blind obedience seek to justify their position. However, I also think there are those for whom their "apologetics" are not just them seeking justification, but instead are seeking to find balance in cognitive dissonance and, like you said, "use the intellectual talent that God has given [them], nurture and develop it. Reach for greater knowledge, goodness and wisdom." What they end up with is a kind of justification, sure, but it is personal, intimate, assurance for them to trust an authority in a certain regard -- which isn't always a bad thing. Sometimes trust in something/someone beyond ourselves is a good path.

    Again, I guess it all comes down to asking yourself:
    Why do I trust?
    Why do I doubt? 

    marleerockerNovember 12, 2014 at 6:15 PM

    1. I'm so glad you made that point. I think I meant to exclude apologists, or anyone who sincerely acknowledges weaknesses in their position and/or the validity of opposing arguments, when I said "flatly" but I should have developed that idea more.

      I think what I find "unintegritable" if I can make up that word, is when people spend all their energy justifying what turns out to be more of an emotional reaction (motivated by (self) righteous indignation/pride) than a well-thought out conclusion.

    2. Absolutely. I think it's human nature to feel defensive of our positions, without taking the time to thinking critically about their origin. (When we do, we often find most of our opinions are based in some sort of personal experience, which garnered some sort of strong emotion, which cemented our idea of that experience as personal truth.)

      *and personal truth needs to be more than just emotion and experience; there has to be logic, reasoning, and even connections to outside sources as backup to bring us to a "well thought out conclusion" that is comprehensive enough to come close to "truth."

  2. Also: since I know where some of your post is coming from I want to recommend this:

    (Ahh! The last line! ‘Isn’t it interesting that today’s challenge to our faith is coming directly from the church?’)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ye Elders of Israel

It’s amazing to think of the power it takes to convince so many 18/19/20 year olds to do everything it requires to serve a full time mission. That is a lot of sacrifice, suffering, and hard work from what is often thought of as a primarily self-absorbed and still-immature age group. 

You get a sense of that power in this performance. It's beautiful. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

my response to a Q on fbook

Question. Everyone talks about Gods timetable being better than our own, how does free agency work into that?
 — feeling lost.
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  • Kirsten Marie Nielsen from how I understand it, we have agency precisely because we are unable to accurately determine the state of the future. the principle of uncertainty (due to many things, including the limitations of language and our ability to perceive the world) gives us the opportunity to make choices, not based on knowing how things are actually going to turn out, but instead based on who we are (what we choose is a reflection of our inner selves -- what we value and believe). The idea of God "having a better timetable" is simply a mechanism for allowing more of our choices to reflect faith in God as opposed to being all happenstance or predisposition (i.e. it helps people feel like there is some certainty out there).