Monday, December 31, 2012

becoming something to treasure

It seemed an appropriate way to tip my hat to my life this last year as 2012 comes to an end:
“On this last day of the year I was thinking about sea glass and what an extraordinarily good metaphor it is for what we all hope for in life. When it was created and initially used, the glass had no value. It was part of a greenish Coke bottle, a brown wine bottle, olive oil, or a blue drinking glass. Nothing of importance. Use up the contents and throw the bottle away. Somehow or other the glass broke and its pieces were scattered. This one ends up in the ocean. For a long time, maybe even years, it lives there being tossed and tumbled, roiled here and there by the whims of the sea. It’s not a good life, but it manages to keep intact. All the time it’s in there however, its sharp edges are being worn away by the water’s constant movement. The violence of storms, the bleaching sun, saltwater… all these things transform it. Eventually it gets washed up on a beach somewhere. It is the same glass it once was but also something new. Not entirely but almost. The color has been burned away by the sun and the acid sea, making the glass more translucent, ethereal, and lovely. It has no more edges. But without them it has taken on a shape, a form, that is often singular and truly one of a kind. Sooner or later someone comes by and notices it. They are immediately attracted. They love it for what it has become. Often they take it home and in some cases, even turn it into a piece of jewelry or something else valuable. Something to treasure."        

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


"It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season—like all the other seasons—is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them." —Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Thursday, November 29, 2012

gaining knowledge, gaining faith, & living truth

My thoughts today began with pondering the following:
Moving through what Dickenson called “the fair schoolrooms of the sky,” we will grow in our knowledge pertaining to successively higher forms of law – without distinction between the laws of physics and the laws of holiness (Terryl Givens The God Who Weeps Loc 1919).
The first thing that came to mind was something I've posted about before, from Henry Eyring, where he builds from his experience a list of points that argue for belief in the spiritual as well as the scientific. He emphasizes that:

Most important, the foregoing nine points don't answer ALL the questions. If I take everything I know from the scriptures and the prophets, and everything I know from science, and reconcile them, I still have as many unanswered question as I have ones with answers. No intellectual approach nails down everything. In this life there will always be unanswered questions. In fact, each answer seems to raise more questions. That's the way it is in science too, and I don't apostatize from science for that reason. Actually, that's what makes science, and religion, fun. Faith is feeling good about myself, feeling good about God, and muddling along after truth as best I can ( Reflections of a Scientist).
We find contradictions and unanswered questions between OUR UNDERSTANDING OF "the laws of physics" and the laws of holiness" yet we are still commanded to search out both, as a way to GAIN faith:
 And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith (D&C 88:124).
So why? Why and how does searching out that which leads to questions lead to faith? John Welch's comment on this verse is that "Spirit and intellect, study and faith, science and religion, testimony and academics—often we see these as opposites, but ultimately they are not. If our eye is single to God and his glory, if in our learning we are always willing to hearken unto the counsels of the Lord, if we are equally rigorous about what we think and how we reason, we shall see how all truth may be circumscribed in one great whole and, that all things shall work together for our good" (Source).

This is a rather intriguing principle we often repeat but fail to deeply comprehend; that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole” and along with it "That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24)

The idea that all truth belongs to a greater body of truth, and that we are working to understand it, is more complex than I think most realize. President Howard W. Hunter observed "With God our Heavenly Father, all truth, wherever found or however apprehended, is circumscribed into one great whole. Ultimately, there are no contradictions, no quarrels, no inscrutable paradoxes, no mysteries." (President’s Formal Charge of Responsibility , LDS Church News, 1994.) So the collective sum of those truths is a perfect whole -- there is nothing that is truth that does not fit into this greater whole.

We often perceive this as meaning that all individual "truths" ("laws of physics" OR "laws of holiness") are perfect or absolute in an of themselves, a fallacy which becomes a problem when we try to different reconcile types of "truth" -- this is what leads us to questions and contradictions. However, what better environment for the growth of faith than a situation of conflict? 
Chiam Potok suggested that there are four possible responses to conflict between sacred and secular thought systems. 1. First, the lockout approach: one can simply dodge the conflict by erecting impenetrable barriers between the sacred and the secular and then remaining in just one system. We see this in religious enclaves and communes, hidden away from "the world," but just as much in a closed-minded secular society which admits no transcendent experience. 2. The second response is compartmentalization: one creates separate categories of thought that coexist in a "tenuous peace." Most of the mainstream Mormons I know have responded in this way. 3. Third, ambiguity: take down most if not all walls and accept a multitude of questions without intending to resolve them.... In practice, however, a multitude of questions abound, and not much resolution takes place. 4. Potok's fourth response is to take down all walls and allow complete fusion in which the sacred and secular cultures freely feed each other, perhaps leading to a "radically new seminal culture." I'm not sure, but I think what he advocates here is a removal, or at least a recognition, of paradigm; political correctness, an acceptance of everyone's perception.

What we are taught in the Temple provides a fifth possibility--the circumscribing of truth into one great whole. This view gives us faith that indeed there does exist an absolute truth. Here we accept objective and subjective reality from both the sacred and the secular thought systems in the pursuit of the construction of an eternal "whole." In order to distinguish this state from Potok's fourth approach, there would have to be identification of "truth" and some type of blocking or rejection of evil or falsehood. Complete acceptance of everything would cause confusion and conflict. The problem lies in our inability to recognize pure Truth. Misuse of this approach brings us right back to Potok's first response (Source).
Because we have faith that there is a greater whole that everything CAN fit into, we can find meaning in the struggle of seeking to understand it, though it entails an arduous process forever encountering the contradictions of the objective and subjective reality of the world we live in -- that we must work to reconcile and in it find our faith. It is the process, not the destination, that is important -- though knowing that there is a destination validates our work -- because it is the process that changes us and makes us into the kind of beings that begin to not just understand doctrine, but be devoted to it.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give  more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have (2 Ne. 28:30).
It is those who apply truth that receive more truth. The more we learn the more we must change. We seek to understand truth -- and to live it.

God is the Grand Weaver of our lives

I read this and thought of what I learned Sunday and what I have been mulling over in my own life. It's a tender mercy for me:

God and Disappointment

I struggled as a teenager growing up in Delhi. Failure was writ large on my life. My dad basically looked at me and said, “You know, you’re going to be a huge embarrassment to the family—one failure after another.” And he was right given the way I was headed. I wanted to get out of everything I was setting my hand to, and I lacked discipline.

During this time, India was at war and the defense academy was looking for general duties pilots to be trained. So I applied and I went to be interviewed, which involved an overnight train journey from the city of Delhi. It was wintertime and we were outside freezing for about five days as we went through physical endurance and other tests. There were three hundred applicants; they were going to select ten. On the last day they put their selection of names out on the board, and I was positioned number three.

I phoned my family and said, “You aren’t going to believe this. I’m going to make it. I’m number three. The only thing that’s left is the interview. The psychological testing is tomorrow, and I’ll be home.”

The next morning I began my interview with the chief commanding officer, who looked to me like Churchill sitting across the table. He asked me question after question. Then he said, “Son, I’m going to break your heart today.” He continued, “I’m going to reject you. I’m not going to pass you in this test.”

“May I ask you why, sir?” I replied.

“Yes. Psychologically, you’re not wired to kill. And this job is about killing.”

I felt that I was on the verge of wanting to prove him wrong—but I knew better, both for moral reasons and for his size! I went back to my room and didn’t talk to anybody. I packed my bags, got into the train, and arrived in Delhi. My parents and friends were waiting at the platform with garlands and sweets in their hands to congratulate me. No one knew. I thought to myself, “How do I even handle this? Where do I even begin?” They were celebrating, and yet for me, it was all over.

Or so I thought.

I was to discover later that God is the Grand Weaver of our lives. Every thread matters and is there for a purpose. Had I been selected, I would have had to commit twenty years to the Indian armed forces. It was the very next year that my father had the opportunity to move to Canada. My brother and I moved there as the first installment, and the rest of them followed. It was there I was in business school and God redirected my path to theological training. It was there that I met my wife, Margie; there my whole life changed. The rest is history. Had I been in the Indian Air Force, who knows what thread I’d have pulled to try to wreck the fabric.

Thankfully, our disappointments matter to God, and God has a way of taking even some of the bitterest moments we go through and making them into something of great significance in our lives. It’s hard to understand at the time. Not one of us says, “I can hardly wait to see where this thread is going to fit.”  Rather, we say, “This is not the pattern I want.” Yet one day the Shepherd of our souls will put it all together—and give us an eternity to revel in the marvel of what God has done. Our Father holds the threads of the design, and I’m so immensely grateful that God is the Grand Weaver.

Ravi Zacharias

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Understanding Comes in Stages

This is a post by my brother that he linked me to after I emailed him about re-reading a particular article (this post) and having totally different parts stand out to me this time, all because of the context of my life now. So, I wanted to include here for its relevance and insight:

Understanding Comes in StagesIn a radio series from the 1940's, author E.M. Forster stated that the books which truly influence us are the ones we are prepared to read, namely those “which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.” 1 Hence a truly moving reading experience is the culimnation of not just what you read but when you read it. 
Personally, I love reading with a pen or highlighter on hand. I'm sure I share this sentiment with many others. Navigating books I've annotated reminds me of what I learned while reading. Yet there have been countless times I've returned to a previously-read passage only to wonder why in the world I highlighted sentence seven and completely left all of paragraph four unmarked. However, now I realize that as I experience more of life (getting to know myself, my neighbors, my career, my friends, my world) I come to see and understand aspects of life very differently. 
As just one example, I used to gloss over snippets of javascript or terminal commands deeming them the writings of a foreign language. However, I now scrupulously inspect those snippets for nuggets of knowledge I have not yet discovered. 
Seeing, and its ensuing counterpart understanding, come in phases. What you fail to grasp and understand at this point in your development you may later find to be common sense. Be patient. Seeing and understanding come in stages through experience.
1. As quoted by Jill Carattini in her article Two-Staged Miracles over at RZIM.

Eugene England on Marriage Fidelity and Unity

(Re-read a piece by England today and this is what stood out to me most this time.)

Female-male unity (which God has powerfully imaged in the concept of becoming "one flesh") ideally involves complete sharing—with a separate, co-eternal individual and without loss of our own individuality—of all our singularity, vulnerability, trust, hopes, and potentialities (48).

We can violate that creative union of two opposites in various ways—by immature haste or promiscuity, by self-gratification or lust (either outside marriage or within it, if sex is used selfishly), by lying to each other, by not sharing fully and often our deepest feelings and hopes, by refusing to be vulnerable and, thus, walling off parts of ourselves, by not working constantly to justify and build complete trust (49).
...the full responsibilities of married love, which include loving unconditionally -- but also include being a special, intimate friend, having children, sharing one's deepest self, and being fully vulnerable. In Michael Novak's words, "Seeing myself through the unblinking eyes of an intimate, intelligent other, an honest spouse, is humiliating beyond anticipation." And we are tempted to avoid that humiliation, however redemptive it is. Having comparatively shallow, friendly, intellectual, artistic relations with a group of people... is not as difficult as developing a full relationship of fidelity with one person. And I fear that many Mormon men and women...justify their inclination to...flirt or share their identity with a number of people, or simply to withdraw from the struggle into blessed singularity -- and there, to often, to be satisfied with some version of love of self (52).

Difficult as complete married fidelity and unity is to achieve, there is nothing sweeter on earth than our approximations of it. And we have been given no clear evidence that it will not continue to be the sweetest thing in heaven, the foundation of godhood and a blessing available to all who, freed from this world's limitations, really want it (61). 

-Eugene England 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Our Maker

In a Sunday School lesson the teacher took a little time to tell us about her job as an architect. She drew out the floor plan for a building she designed, down to the placement of closets and wall outlets (and weird electrical issues) explaining that as the creator of this plan, which she had worked on for years, she knew everything about it.

She went on to set up the following scenario and then read a scripture:

Sometimes we find ourselves in a closet and all we want to do is get out! But, we don't have to just sit there waiting to move on to the next room -- we can spend some times learning everything there is to know about the closet. And we can call "the maker" and get details about it, about the walls and the floor -- down to the tiles.
3 Ne. 22:5
For thy maker, thy husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel—the God of the whole earth shall he be called.
The Lord is our maker -- He knows everything about us (down to all our flaws and quirks) and when we find ourselves in some circumstance of life, that perhaps all we want to do is get out of, we are in an amazing position to call our "maker" and instead learn everything that we can from the situation we are in, the people we are around, and the experiences we are having. He knows what's there for us to find and learn, and we can leave that "closet" and move on to the next much better for the time we spent there.

I know this is true from my own experience in different "closets" and it has made a big difference in my attitude towards my present circumstances as well as my relationship with the Lord to learn the lesson of making the effort to get what I can from where I am and of going to my maker for instructions. I have seen His influence as my Maker to teach me and I have felt His love.

I am writing this down now because of what this same teacher finished her lesson with:
3 Ne. 23:4
Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
How often are we given directions somewhere that we do not write down -- and then end up having to call the person we got directions from over and over for the next turn because we have forgotten the details of the directions we were given? If we would only write them down, we could follow from start finish!

I don't believe the Lord ever gets tired of our calling him for "directions" -- but He has nonetheless commanded us to write the things He tells us. I know that it is because by writing down our directions from Him we will find ourselves blessed later on with clear details on where to go next and our journey will be that much smoother and truer.

I am so grateful to my Sunday School teacher today and I hope these lessons are ones I will keep.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Holiness is found in how we treat others

In his book The God Who Weeps Givens discusses the role of human relationships in our existence – how critical they are to the experience of life here on earth as well as the experience of life to come. They are “both the laboratory in which we labor to perfect ourselves and the source of that enjoyment that will constitute our true heaven” (Kindle edition Loc 1815).

I've posted before about the grace inherent in the loving relationships (schools of love) of this life, of how we are put in families and commanded to be married in order to give us the experiences we need to be enabled to reach upwards towards Godliness and given tutorials on all that entails. Givens explains how this grace takes form beautifully when he states that “what we call the virtues are precisely those attributes of character that best suit us to live harmoniously, even joyfully, in society. Kindness only exists when there is someone to whom we show kindness. Patience is only manifest when another calls it forth. So it is with mercy, generosity and self-control. What we may have thought was our private pathway to salvation, was intended all along as a collaborative enterprise, though we often miss the point” (Kindle edition Loc 1824). We've always known God meant for us to learn to be like him, but it more than our individual experiences or efforts could ever had accomplished.

Which fits in well with what Eugene England about the purpose of the Church in our lives, to provide us with relationships we might not have otherwise had – and the lessons inherent in them: “Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be— and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be. ...its assaults on our lonely egos, and the bonds and re­sponsibilities that we willingly accept, can push us toward new-kinds of being in a way we most deeply want and need to be pushed." (England ).

I learn kindness by having people in my life to be kind to – people to whom I want to be kind to out of love for them, as well as those to whom being kind comes as a challenge for me, and thus kindness becomes a part of who I am because I (hopefully) continually choose it over other less Godly ways of interacting with everyoneI come in contact with.

Holiness is found in how we treat others, not in how we contemplate the cosmos (T. Givens Kindle Edition Loc 1832).
Givens goes on to explain the beauty and interconnectedness of this way of understanding God's plan of salvation for his children, that “the project of perfection, or purification and sanctification, is in this light not a scheme for personal advancement, but a process of better filling – and rejoicing in – our roll in what Paul called the body of Christ, and what others have referred to as the New Jerusalem, the General Assembly, and Church of the Firstborn, or, as in the prophecy of Enoch, Zion” (Kindle Edition Loc 1832). The plan is intended to save each individual – BUT NOT INDIVIDUALLY!

Salvation is rooted in others – in relationships – in LOVE – and “the two constants” of life here and hereafter, “what we have learned and how we have loved” go hand in hand precisely because so often what we have learned comes through how we have loved (T. Givens Loc 1902). And this is because “the divine nature of man, and the diving nature of God, are shown to be the same – they are rooted in the will to love, at the price of pain, but in the certainty of joy. Heaven holds out the promise of a belonging that is destines to extend and surpass any that we have ever known in this wounded world” (Loc 1902).

Our experience with relationships here, and of loving will be the basis of the loving that defines Heaven. “However rapturous or imperfect, fulsome or shattered, our knowledge of love has been, we sense it is the very basis and purpose of our existence. It is a belonging that we crave because it is one we have always known” (Kindle edition Loc 1770)

I hope that in every type of shade of relationship throughout my life I will be able to more fully adopt that form of heaven – of loving and learning through that love.

Friday, November 23, 2012

"To love at all is to be vulnerable"

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Monday, October 22, 2012

The vulnerability of Ruth

The story of Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 2-3 was always a little strange to me. However, I've gleaned some insight into the story that opens it up in a very interesting way.

So, remember how after her husband died Ruth chose to live with her mother-in-law Naomi? Naomi saw that her kinsman Boaz had noticed Ruth, and came up with a risky plan for Ruth to get him to marry her:
Ruth enteres into the threshing barn of the sleeping Boaz in the dead of night and by so doing, places herself in a hopelessly compromising situation with hazard to her reputation and life. She is foreign-born with no friend or protector, and no alibi, no story to tell a public, if Boaz simply wakes up and exploits the situation for his own advantage. 
The marvel, of course, is that the sole immediate purpose of Ruth's actions is to make herself vulnerable. Vulnerability is her end. Her only objective is to make herself as exposed and defenseless as she can, so she can say to Boaz, "I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant." In other words, here am I, yours to protect or destroy. I place myself in your hands. I hold nothing back, so you may know my trust is without bounds. But of course, in making herself so vulnerable, she reveals the exquisite beauty of her own character (The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Kindle edition Loc 510).
Ruth made herself vulnerable and was blessed for it. Ultimately, I see this as a model to follow in my relationship with God. He is one who I can trust completely and to whom my vulnerability is only ever rewarded. For Ruth, and for me, "only by opening [herself/myself] to the possibility of paramount harm... [does she/do I] serve as vehicles of His grace. That vulnerability is both the price of the power to save, and that which saves" (The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Kindle edition Loc 537) 

In putting my trust in God I take on trials and difficulties, pain and sorrow, but I know they will enable me serve as the hands of the Lord and change the experience of my life, expanding my capacity for joy and fulfillment.

The more that I learn about vulnerability the more I see how crucial it is to the human experience. I have posted about the vulnerability of God and my discoveries about own vulnerability and now, from here I'd like to tie all I've learned to the lives of the young single women that I've had the opportunity to observe, and the way that we are all required to make ourselves vulnerable in our search for a companion.

I have many friends with beautiful spirits, righteous desires, and a fierce loyalty to Christ and His gospel, and it has been difficult to watch so many of them open themselves up to the opposite sex, much in the way that Ruth did to Boaz, hoping just to be seen and appreciated for the "exquisite beauty" of character that is there, only to have that trust "exploited" or simply disregarded.

It is one of the most difficult parts of being single. Each time we meet someone who seems worthy of our love, we hope, against experience, that this time our trust will be rewarded. When instead we experience the pain of rejection, we have to fight not to hold back pieces of who we are, flounder in doubt about our worth, and question why we make ourselves vulnerable in the first place.

Disappointed and disparaged, in so many ways this becomes the type of test of faith that Terryl Givens defined as "a test of our own willful decision to choose faith over doubt" (from an article by Boyd Peterson) and to continue to believe the promise that if we love and serve God we will be granted the deepest desires of our hearts.

I have many good and lovely girlfriends in my life. They each deserve to hear the words of affirmation and appreciate that Boaz spoke to Ruth. However, I hope that they each see the pain and difficulties of this time in our life as part of what will ultimately serve "the larger purposes of God's master plan, which is to maximize the human capacity for joy, or in other words 'to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man'  (The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, by Terryl and Fiona Givens. Kindle edition Loc 571) .  God can expand our capacity for joy through whatever we experience. Years of pain give meaning to the dawn of joy:
God’s power rests not on totalizing omnipotence, but on the ability to alchemize suffering, tragedy, and loss, into wisdom, understanding, and even joy...In Mormonism, it is joy consciously, not effortlessly, chosen that is godlike (from Mormonism and the Dilemma of Tragedy by Rachael).

I hope that I, along with my dear single friends, can continue to make that difficult choice of vulnerability, pain and joy.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

divine generosity

I posted this time last year about the concept of the divine law of economy and this weekend I came across a compliment and "contradiction" to it while reading The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, by Terryl and Fiona Givens.

They mention the naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch and how he believed that the fact that birds sing not just to warn of danger or attract a mate, but out of joy as well, is a sign of "an excess." That "joy itself is not necessary, useful, or productive to the workings of the natural world" (where the law of economy reigns) BUT -- and this is the kicker: "In a universe limited by the economy of the essential, joy is proof of a surplus." 
The song of the bird, like the joy of a human, is not a passive acquiescence to what is, an acceptance of the conditions of life. It is an energy-infused celebration of that life, a recognition of its giftedness (Kindle Version Loc 601).
I think it's telling to then refer to 2 Nephi 2:27 " are that they might have joy." The law of economy operates but isn't the goal. Ultimately we are meant for "surplus."

Terryl and Fiona Givens go on to explain that our sense of taste is more "refined"  that survival necessitates and the sensitively of our ability to differentiate different smells also seems to exceed what a law of economy would dictate. Therefor, "If we are made in God's image, we can see His joyful nature reflected in the arsenal of access He gave us, to a variegated world of color and sound and texture and taste and smell"  (Kindle Version Loc 609).  The beauty of the modern world does not exist solely for itself, but to accomplish its ends as well as provide joy for us. "Nature's purposes and God's purposes are not in competition but work in tandem." The law of economy still holds, but there rides alongside it a divine "generosity" (Kindle Version Loc 618).

God's purpose "is to enlarge the sphere of human joy, and we discover the marvelous truth that our joy is His joy. What greater motivation could there be for us to seek out and secure our own, our friends', our families' happiness, than to know it adds to His." (Kindle Version Loc 635).

Friday, October 19, 2012

The vulnerability of God

I've posted about vulnerability before. Reading  The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, by Terryl and Fiona Givens has given me new insight that I have to mention here.

So, Givens brings up "the problem of vulnerability wrought by love" and how it in some ways makes us hostage, quoting Freud that "We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love" (Kindle Edition Loc 406).

But, it is exactly this exposure to suffering that makes the choice to love so meaningful; the value is in its cost. And apparently this is as true for God as it is for us!

Givens explains this by beginning with Job's question on the matter:

"What is man, that thou shoudest magnify him? and that tho shoudest set thine heart upon him?" The astonishing revelation here is that God does set His heart upon us. And in so doing, God chooses to love us. And if love means responsibility, sacrifice, vulnerabiity, then God's decision to love us is the most stupendously submlime moment in the history of time. He chooses to love even at, neessarily at, the price of vulnerability. 
It is God's response to the manifold creatures by whom He is surrounded, the movement of His heart and will in the direction of those other beings -- us -- that becomes the defining moment in His godliness, and establishes the patter of His divine activity. His freely made choice to inaugurate and sustain costly loving relationships is the very core of His divine identity. (Kindle Edition Loc 422).
Let me just repeat that last part:

His freely made choice to inaugurate and sustain costly loving relationships is the very core of His divine identity. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Our Identity and Our Destiny

A friend posted a link to the transcription of the speech Our Identity and Our Destiny by Tad R. Callister on Facebook, and an interesting discussion thread ensued (as it is wont to do on Fbook). 

I intend on writing my own response in the next couple days, but until then I think the following (a comment on the thread that I copied-and-pasted) is worth reading:

Ryan T. Roos So ... I'm going to argue a slightly differing view here, if for no other reason than to be a contrarian and spark debate. I believe the claim in question has been dealt a fundamental disservice by those espousing the doctrine in that those proponents of the idea of theosis have looked too long to the God of classical theism and dogma as a behavioral model and thus have formulated some propositions regarding the role of "Godhood" that may be misplaced. Specifically, I lament what I see as an inordinate focus on the power (defined here as a controlling, dictating, 'tough guy in the sky' force), to the point of obsession, without the responsibility or the overarching telos so central to Mormon thought on the subject. This is why I found Terryl Givens' presented thesis in the Logan Tabernacle so refreshing. He chose to restore divine empathy to the discussion; bra-vo. The restoration of the God who feels should just feel right to Mormons, far superior in fit to the 'tough guy in the sky' thinking that near always permeates these discussions and influences our stated future tense concepts of the afterlife. If Givens is correct, the first discussion and example of the subject in Mormonism is as follows: a fundamental, if not the fundamental, attribute of one who holds the power of God is that of expansive divine empathy; i.e., the power to feel and suffer for all. That is fundamental to the power and responsibility of God. 

I will also disagree (with a great deal of respect) with some of the above in that I do not feel that the idea that we become like God was so prominently developed so early. Indeed, it should be argued that Lorenzo Snow found the traditional late 19th century couplet "as man is God once was, as God is man may be" to work in conjunction with (and fill out) Smith's 1844 King Follet sermon, as well as other statements attributed to Smith. I have no issue with this. However, that sermon (King Follet) was also initially suppressed in the early 20th century (to the point of being excised from the 1st edition of the History of the Church) precisely because certain portions of that discourse were viewed as non-doctrinal by some within the church. I mention this only to demonstrate the possibility that our thinking on the subject is still young. 

Regardless of where those in the past have chosen to place their emphasis, I personally hold these three propositions to be true: 1) the God of Mormonism is, without question, a qualitatively and conceptually separate being from that God espoused and dictated by the late creeds of classical Christian theism. Mormons should take more pride in this point rather than fielding various degrees of embarrassment from it. The God of Aquinas--and the God of his proofs--has little to nothing to do with the God of Mormonism (or the interactionary God of the scriptures for that matter). Mormons who look to the God of Aquinas with envy, and then try to infuse their God with the same restrictions (word intentional) are doing a fundamental disservice to their faith. 2) While a passion-filled God is a passion-fueled punchline to creedal Christians, He and She are extremely attractive (as well as extremely compelling) to me personally in that they have not only the ability to command and oversee, but the ability and obligation as divine beings to feel both love and pain and participate in the consequences of reality. They don't simply just harvest the glory. 3) It's pure Mormon doctrine that to be "one" with God--in the John 17 sense--is to share in the mind and will of God; it follows then that you would share in the same fundamental and overarching concern as God: the absolute wellbeing and fulfillment of others; i.e., Moses 1:39. Evidently, that is the great secret of our existence and of Godhood itself. I hold then that what Mormonism means when it says that man can become like God is as literal as it gets -- but that what that entails in terms of responsibility or "work" is nearly as unexplored as it can be. A shame indeed.

Remember yesterday's post and the book I am reading? Well while reading I found something I thought Ryan from above would be interested in. Here's my response:

@Ryan I have been reading "The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life" by Terryl and Fiona Givens and today I read something that reminded me of what you wrote. In making the point that "We have a Heavenly Father whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts" & “He feels real sorrow, rejoices with real gladness, and weeps real tears with us” they bring up the example of Huck Finn choosing damnation by not turning in his slave friend Jim over the God he was raised to worship and also the example of the agnostic Ivan from "The Brothers Karamazov" who explains that a God whose only response to pain is to inflict more pain is not one he can worship. Then they state "We, just like Huck or Ivan or countless others, would be justified in saying, "No, I will not bow to such a God." At the risk of our own eternal annihilation, we would resist. We would not say, with Augustine, that existence under any conditions -- including an eternity of undeserved torment -- is more to be valued than nonexistence. We do not concede that a god who creates us, or the entire universe for that matter, is beyond reproach or question by virtue of his power alone."  (Kindle edition Loc. 337)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

the choice/my choice

I started reading The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life, (which addresses "five teachings and why they matter to Mormons and to the world") by Terryl and Fiona Givens. In just the first few pages I came across some familiar words (that I quoted in a previous post) and I can already tell there is going to be a lot in this book that I'll have to write through/think through.

Today I just wanted to mention one paragraph, and how it touched my heart.

Context: Givens is addressing the equally compelling arguments for doubt and faith, and how it is because of this "equilibrium and balance" between the two that our hearts are truly free to chose one or the other, and that choice is a reflection of who we are.  He proceeds to state that:

"The greatest act of self-revelation occurs when we choose what we will believe, in that space of freedom that exists between knowing that a think is, and knowing that a thing is not" (Kindle version Loc 139).
I've thought a lot about the choice of faith in my life. For many years it was one I never felt any kind of loss over, mostly I believe because I didn't see it as an option at "equilibrium and balance." To choose faith just seemed so obviously reasonable and heavy-laden in advantages.

A few years ago that changed. I entered a situation that challenged my view of the scale.  It was a path I felt prompted to follow, and have been blessed by in so many ways that I'm still discovering new lessons years later. This is one of those lessons. As I read the above quote, the Spirit touched my heart and brought to my mind the choice of faith I made in response to two very equal and conflicting recourses. I could see very clearly the advantages and sacrifices each would bring... and it was in the midst of seeing everything that could be gained and lost that I had to make the heart-wrenching choice of what I REALLY believe and who I REALLY am.

Looking back now I can see how intimately and comprehensively that choice has defined me. I know better what I am willing to give up and what I bring to my relationship with the Lord, and with others.

Since then I have made other similar choices, and I know there will be many more to come. In these future choices between "equilibrium and balance" I hope I will show that my "love of truth" is greater than my "fear of error" (Kindle version Loc 139).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

They say/I say: Origins

When I teach my students about writing I always try to explain that what they have to say shouldn't take place in a vacuum. They should always be working to respond to and build upon something else. It gives context and life to ideas. So, I just read this post by a friend and want to respond to it in bits and pieces. I like a lot of what was said, but also want to expand upon it with my own thoughts. 

It begins by stating that "Extraordinary significance is placed in the LDS faith on the character of God." I think it is important to establish a "Why?" here: To know God is to know who we came from and what we are working towards. It isn't just knowing for the sake of knowing, but knowing in order to act. This should be the reason for all types of learning; it's like the difference between having knowledge vs having wisdom right? Simply understanding vs being changed. We don't work to know who God is in order to establish a point by point theology or creed, but to be changed by that understanding, and inspired and galvanized to turn our will over to him.

The post goes on to state: "Would God’s character include deception of any type? I would say no.
I believe in a God who would have us obey his teachings, but also to accept everything science has taught us so far."

I wholeheartedly agree with this. I think that's part of the exceptional challenge of being religious in our modern world. Have you read "Reflections of a Scientist" by Henry Eyring? I wrote a little post about it you should read (and you should read the whole book too). To go with the idea of religion and science coexisting with cognitive dissonance, I quote Eyring at the end of his book: "I am certain that the gospel as taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is true. It's a better explanation of what I observe in science that any other I know about. There are still lots of things I don't know, but that doesn't bother me. I'm a happy muddler. The gospel simply asks me to find out what's true as best I can and in the meantime to live a good life. That strikes me as the best formula for living there could be." 

My own method has always been to seek understanding, learn what I can, and take what sounds best. To take a common example, evolution makes sense and I'll happily accept it without straining to figure out how it coexists with the creationism. It's interesting to think about, to fiddle around with, but I don't see it as being something ANYONE will ever know (until God makes it known) so why should I ever expect to fit ALL the pieces together? Especially because in 50 years there will more new theories to supplant the ones we have now.  I'm not particularly worried about figuring out how the world began because I trust that one day all things will be made known. It is interesting to read about the dinosaurs and who killed king tut as science gets better at interpreting clues. I love that stuff and I appreciate that we have a better understand of science and history now than has been had by mankind in thousands of years. But it isn't perfect and never will be while we are ON OUR OWN. God will make all things known to us one day and grace will be as much a part of this, as it is individual day-to-day repentance.   
The post bring up the early church, Joseph F. Smith, etc. and how the church started out "being very specific and insistent about things like the world’s age, or the exact nature of evolution and it’s role in mans current state."Which makes sense when you understand the context, all of that was stuff that the american religious reformation was very keen about, and something the early elders of the church loved to speculate on -- kinda like elder's quorum/high priests group now-a-days, haha. People will always want to learn and connect this stuff. (That's part of what makes the book of Abraham soooooooo interesting!) And I totally agree that "It is not as important for us to know human tradition’s definition about the exact origin, timespan, and process of how things came to be as it is for us to know the source of our salvation, and the knowledge of what it takes to be happy in this life and in the eternities." THAT is the REAL kicker.

Which is why I love when my friend said "That is why we are here on earth. To know God. To know His Plan. To follow his commandments. Not to limit our perception which is based on what may or may not be folklore. Folklore being the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture." This is very perceptive. It goes both ways -- what we speculate about science AS WELL AS what we speculate about religion.

My friend asks "Was Joseph F. Smith’s generation lacking the scientific proof they needed at the time in order to come up with a deeper understanding of man’s origin? Were the revelations which followed only fit for times of such a limited understanding? Or were they reacting out of fear that an important tradition or story they believed in was being threatened. The truth and matter of factness of which was paramount to survival of doctrinal authority?" and these are interesting questions. Ones that don't have clear answers and probably never will… which is part of why they aren't the MOST IMPORTANT questions… the most important ones are "What does my understanding about the origins of man help me to know about myself and my relationship with God?" "How can I make myself more receptive to the Spirit and thereby more open to greater understanding through revelation?" "How do I react when my beliefs about God are questioned? Why? What can I do to feel secure in my testimony of Christ?"

The question about the tradition of the garden of eden story is also interesting. I've had that discussion with my dad, on how literal the story could be versus how likely it is just all symbolism. There is a lot of speculation both ways. So, where does that put me? I don't know which it is…but I know that I can learn a lot about how I should live my life from the story, so it doesn't bother me that I can't make up my mind either way yet. Someday I'll know. Maybe the earth big banged into existence and evolved into a nice place for God to place his very literal son & daughter to grow and learn. Maybe it's something totally different. I don't think we should ever stop trying to figure it out, but I also believe that it doesn't deserve quite as much time and attention as my efforts to develop a closer relationship with Christ. After all, isn't that going to help me understand the character of God in the most real and intimate way? And isn't that the point, "for this is life eternal: that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thous hast sent" John 17:3

Anyway, there's my two cents. I'll need to come back to this and add more scriptures asap.   

Monday, October 8, 2012

My General Conference report

I want to respond to a few things from General Conference while it's still fresh in my mind. Here is a general summary of how I connected some of the different concepts that were mentioned.

Elder Bednar (Sun. PM) taught that testimony is the beginning of conversion -- not the end destination. And testimony alone is not enough. We need to have "a knowledge of the truth" (a testimony) as well as to be "converted unto the Lord" in order to have the steadfastness necessary to "never fall away." Conversion comes when we begin to "set aside" our "weapons of rebellion" i.e. all the things that keep us from being changed.

I think this is part of what Elder Uctdorf (Sat. AM) was getting at when he said that declaring testimony is good but being a living testimony is better. It's who we are, who we have been changed into through our conversion to Christ that makes the difference. He went on to explain that we must learn to be less focused on the finish line so that we do not miss the journey. I think the the journey is our conversion... we cannot become so caught up in the end goal, of perfection, that we aren't away of the daily journey of the process of our conversion. Elder Uctdorf also said "there is something in each day to be embraced and cherished." Every day we can find a lesson, a tender mercy, an experience, to be embraced and cherished for what it can do/will do to be changed. Each day offers an opportunity.

Of course this means being willing to submit to whatever circumstances come our way, from day to day, in our journey. Cherishing the journey means trusting God.  Elder Eyring (Sun. AM) brought up that sometimes our insistence on following our own timetable obscures the will of God and that we have to learn to say, not just "thy will be done" but "thy will be done and in thy own time" because times of waiting are always calculated to bless. The stories President Monson told (Sun AM) seemed to illustrate this well -- that sometimes things go "wrong" for us so that they can go "right" for others -- so that our paths cross and we can be there to lift and bless.

We may be left in undesirable circumstances or abruptly pushed into an unexpected trial, but it is meant to serve as part of our journey and part of how we are left in keeping of the "lower light," as Elder Packer (Sun. AM) explained, that is necessary for others to find their way through their journey as well.

Anyways, I'm excited to read the talks and make more solid connections with real quotes. It was a marvelous conference!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

faith through questions

In conjunction with my last post on the "dedication to investigation," here is a quote from this post (responding to Richard Dawkins):

This assumption of ignorance or irrationality has rendered him culturally autistic, unable to imagine the minds of believers to explore the basis of their belief. Because of this, he hasn't touched thousands of other reasons why people believe in the reality of a spiritual world. 

I believe in God (and the veracity of the Book of Mormon) because of personal experience and the sensations of joy, gratitude, wonder, and universal love I feel when I consider and investigate these topics. Part of my belief does stem from an inability to explain certain mysterious events in my life and as such that part of my belief is vulnerable to explanation. I like that. I like being vulnerable to new information and understanding. I like how doubt provides a humble and empowering lookout from which to examine my beliefs.

And expanding on the idea of doubt as a springboard to faith, here is a quote from this post about asking questions ( I added the underlining):

...there were a couple of believers that work closely with science who described their personal journeys to reconcile science with religion and maintain their intellectual honesty while fortifying their faith. What distinguished these believers was that they had actively asked questions that they knew had caused others to extinguish the flame of their own faith, but in so doing sought Heaven’s aid. When they arrived at conclusions that were satisfactory to them, they found peace and that familiar assurance that at first had converted them to Christ’s gospel. I felt challenged to venture out and discover where I feel the two intersect. I cannot discard my faith that has been fortified by numerous unforgettable experiences, nor can I pretend that science is faulty and changes with the wind. Both evolve: one as God sees fit to endow us with additional understanding, and the other as man’s efforts and ability enable us to understand. But I can allow both to heavily influence how I see the world. For me, especially when life plays out contrary to my expectations (for better or worse), I can look back and see the scientific explanation for how something happened, but I look through the lens of faith to understand why. 
This recent journey was one that I knew came with risks. I have seen friends cast away their faith when they dug below the surface of this issue or others. Why is it that I advocate the search for truth? Is it because modern scripture instructs us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith”? Is it because I fear to appear ignorant? For me, it is because I recognize that my faith will illuminate my understanding only inasmuch as I allow it to grow, even into the mysterious darkness. 
Learning is a magnificent process. It inspires the mind and enriches the soul. I love that Church leaders and scripture exhort us to learn constantly, because instead of shattering my faith, the process has solidified mine.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

dedication to the investigation: a world without absolutes

Thanks to marla for pointing this post out to me. It aligns perfectly with my musings about life's lack of absolutes, and the many religious-person's unfortunate expectation/need for them in order to find truth.

Here are the parts that caught my attention:

Those who refuse to leave the world of absolutes, black & white, either/or:

What is remarkable about the fundamentalist perspective, however, is an unwillingness to see spiritual life in the same light [the natural world: "built in simultaneously subtle and complicated ways"]. Instead of seeing subtlety and complication that require a lifetime of intense dedicated effort — a genuine personal investigation of the world — to understand, everything is reduced to magic-marker outlines with unwavering, absolute answers.
This world stands in stark contrast to the fundamentalist's spiritual world, a domain so sparse, so simple, that it's been bled of all color, shading and texture.

and in contrast, those who will:

What struck an atheist like me about these folks [spiritually-oriented people] was their dedication to the investigation.
What mattered most to the people I'm thinking of was not doctrine or dogma. It was their exploration of their own experience. They were searching through their lived experience of their spiritual traditions for an understanding of what was sacred in their lives. I found that dedication refreshing and exciting. They understood that there were no easy answers in life.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Something Understood"

The following is reposted from today's RZIM "Slice of Infinity"

Something Understood

In an essay titled "Meditation in a Toolshed," C.S. Lewis describes a scene from within a darkened shed. The sun was brilliantly shining outside, yet from the inside only a small sunbeam could be seen through a crack at the top of the door. Everything was pitch-black except for the prominent beam of light, by which he could see flecks of dust floating about. Writes Lewis:

"I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving in the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences."(1)

Each time I come to the gospel accounts of the woman with the alabaster jar, I notice something similar. "Do you see this woman?" Jesus asks, as if he is speaking as much to me as the guests around the table. With a jar of costly perfume, she had anointed the feet of Christ with fragrance and tears. She then endured the criticism of those around her because she alone saw the one in front of them. While the dinner crowd was sitting in the dark about Jesus, the woman was peering in the light of understanding. What she saw invoked tears of recognition, sacrifice, and much love. Gazing along the beam and at the beam are quite different ways of seeing.

The woman with the alabaster jar not only saw the Christ when others did not, Christ saw her when others could not see past her reputation. "Do you see this woman?" Jesus asked while the others were questioning her actions past and present. "I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much."(2) Her soul's cry was heard; she herself was understood.

There are many ways of looking at Jesus: good man, historical character, interesting teacher, one who sees, one who hears, one who loves. At any point, we could easily walk away feeling like we have seen everything we need to see. When in fact, we may have seen very little. The risk of looking again may well change everything.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

the story of Christ

Today I was reading a short article musing on how and why the story of Christ survived. It's easy for most to admit, concerning the resurrection, that "something must have happened, otherwise it's hard to explain how Jesus's story endured for so long," yet the author of the article affirms that the resurrection "was shocking in its real-ness" and that

We must be wary, then, among other things, of assuming the earliest followers of Christ thought resurrection a reasonable phenomenon or miracles a natural occurrence. They didn't. Investigating the life of Paul, we might ask why a once fearful persecutor of Christ's followers was suddenly willing to die for the story he carried around the world, testifying to this very event that split history. Investigating the enduring story of Christ, we might ask why the once timid and frightened disciples were abruptly transformed into bold witnesses. What happened that led countless Jews and many others to dramatically change directions in life and in lifestyle? That something incredible happened is not a difficult conclusion at which to arrive. It takes far greater faith to conclude otherwise (Carattini).

This reminded me of a post I did a while ago about the importance of the literalness of the resurrection and the need for personal experience with divinity. That the resurrection really happened and that Christ's followers experienced its realness for themselves was powerfully altering. And thinking about that I couldn't help but recall Joseph Smith's testimony in D&C 76:22...
And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
...and how he was also "transformed into [a] bold witness" of Christ -- of the message Christ gave him to share. The experience Joseph had with the Lord "dramatically change[d]" his life, and left him with a story that he too was "willing to die for."
I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it J.S. Hist. 1:25
Experiences with Christ, with His story of love and atonement and resurrection, and the resulting stories we then carry with us of those experiences...they transform us too. That is the power of a personal acquaintance with Truth (one we all need).
It seems to me that the story of Christ has endured for innumerable reasons: because in the fullness of time God indeed sent his Son; because knowingly Jesus walked to the Cross and into the hands of those who didn't know what they were doing; because something really happened after his body was laid in the tomb; and because with great power and with God’s Spirit, the apostles continued to testify of the events they saw. What if the story of Christ remains today simply because it is true? (Carattini)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

God is in the room

I read a short essay by Jill Carattini, an editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and I wanted to write about it here.

She begins by telling the story of picking up a dictionary to look up a word and being "stopped in [her] tracks by a piece of paper that fell out."

In his familiar mechanical script (block lettering and always in pencil) my dad had carefully scratched a word on a torn off corner of paper. His handwriting immediately caught my eye, but it was he himself that seemed to leap off the page. I had forgotten the dictionary was even his, landing on my shelves posthumously. But I was immediately filled with a sense of somber mystery: What was he up to? Why was this word on his mind? Did he hear it somewhere and quickly scribble it down to look up later? Was he researching something or was he just curious? His thoughts, however ordinary they may have been, seemed wonderful, fueled by the sense that I was somehow on his trail; or at least a trail he had once been on. The word was one I'd never heard before. As I looked it up, it felt as if he was peering over my shoulder.
I have been stopped in my tracks similarly by the presence of God. Like a forgotten slip of paper that lands in my hands, God's handwriting suddenly appears in unlikely places, reminding me of the Spirit's presence, the Son's hand in a difficult situation. These are the kind of moments that wake me up. Stumbling across evidence that God is in the room, spaces in my minds long anesthetized by sin or stuff or self are given a sobering thought: God is here, and I didn't even know it.
I have also been stopped in my tracks by the sudden awareness of God's presence. Often it comes as I reflect on the circumstances of my life, the way things fell into place -- or fell apart so that they could later fall together. I see God in "coincidences" and serendipity and good "luck" -- and I've come to rely on the way He manifests himself to me through these things as one of the guiding forces in my decision making. 

It's the times that He reminds me that He is in control, when things work out in unexpected or undesired ways, that I am forced to step back and look for what He is trying to teach me, what it is He wants me to do and become. He is always there, always shaping; "But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand" (Isaiah 64:8).

I am realizing that it is the accumulations of those experiences, of recognizing God's presence in my life and feeling His Spirit in my heart that keeps me secure in my faith. 

D&C 121:45 mentions our "confidence wax[ing] strong in the presence of God." In her essay Carattini references the account in Genesis of Jacob's dream explaining that, "When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.' Then he was afraid and said, 'How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.' In a desperate place, the faith of his fathers' became his own." And Elder Bednar explained in a conference address that "the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ" and that "we should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies. The simpleness, the sweetness, and the constancy of the tender mercies of the Lord will do much to fortify and protect us in the troubled times in which we do now and will yet live."
Ending her essay, Carattini states:
In one word, I was reminded that my father, whose absence is often the mark I see most clearly, has left his signature throughout my life, in this case literally. How much more so God moves through our lives...pursuing us through sin and selfishness, longing for us to see the evidence that God is in the room.

Monday, August 13, 2012

some thoughts about teaching

This past Sunday I taught the lesson for Sunday School, or as was aptly put by someone clever who attended the lesson I "tricked the class" into thinking I taught the lesson.

^This didn't bother me because to a degree, it was true! The lesson was on "the war chapters" of the Book of Mormon, i.e. that cluster of chapters in Alma about the many battles between the Nephites and Lamenites. I knew that in order to teach a good lesson on these chapters I'd really have to dig in and thoroughly research not only the chapters themselves but backstory and commentary. It would have been a very beneficial study (and one I intend on embarking on soon) but it wasn't one I was in a position to begin given my time constraints (I was asked to teach less than a week before) and my busy schedule. So I decided to take "the easy way out" and let the class teach the lesson, i.e. ask a question and have them read and discuss their answers. This is a technique I often used when I was teaching English because:

  1. I've always believed that asking good questions makes a good lesson, so just making the lesson all questions wasn't a huge leap.
  2. I am a big fan of the collaborative learning i.e. group "meaning-making" that comes from good questions + discussion. 
  3. I really believe that trusting the class to make meaningful insights and having the courage to let them propel the discussion (with a little steering from the teacher to keep things on track) can really make for a dynamic lesson. 
  4. It's less work (I am not advocating less work! The more effort you put into study the better off you are, and in gospel teaching more effort on your part means you open yourself up to inspiration and direction from the Spirit in your lesson. I am just saying that sometimes, if context demands it, this is a way to still make the most of a teaching opportunity). 

It works really well for gospel lessons because in means taking the scriptures (THE SOURCE) and using them to answer "our questions" and draw parallels to modern life. So, I started the class explaining that the war chapters are a great resource for understanding how to handle conflict in a Christlike way and that they set a pattern for us -- and that was going to be the focus of the lesson. This was to set the tone/get their minds thinking along the lines of what I ultimately wanted to accomplish with the lesson (That's right! I always have a objective in mind, helps me focus things and hopefully promote a valuable change). So with that goal in mind, I proceeded to have them read groups of versus that illustrated principles "that governed the attitudes and actions of the righteous Nephites in times of war" (from the lesson manual) and asked them to LOOK FOR those principles and then discuss how they each could "apply these principles in dealing with conflict in [their] personal lives" (also from the lesson manual).

So they identified the principles, they applied them, and they thereby created the content for the class in their small groups. All I had to do from that point was open it up for discussion and continue to ask questions to stimulate comments (not the easiest thing, but I think the trick is to actually listen to comments and then respond as if just you and that person were talking together).

So, even though I was "the teacher" it was definitely the class that taught the lesson (and I learned a LOT). It required little of me preparation-wise, or as the class facilitator (I use that word purposefully there), but I felt that it went really well. It's a technique I would love to see more teachers use (especially introverts like me) which is why I decided to write this post. Hopefully I'll be able to share what I've learned about teaching to someone who can use it too!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Schools of Love

Martin Luther, with prophetic perception, wrote, “Marriage is the school oflove”—that is, marriage is not the home or the result of love so much as the school (England 3).

I have been thinking about the "schools of love" that we can belong to.

Marriage is definitely one where we have to learn to let go of our self-interest and turn to selfless and self-giving love. As I have posted about before, it is an opportunity to learn Godly love.

But there are other schools I want to discuss...

I am a member of a wonderful caring family. One where I have had to learn to be sensitive to the feelings and desires of others and where I have found incredible joy in serving and easing the burdens of those I love.  In a good family we can learn "faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work" and wholesome ways to enjoy the company of others (Family). And in a difficult one we can learn patience, long-suffering, understanding. We are all blessed to come into families that will teach us lessons of no-strings-attached-because-we're-family-love. It is a powerfully binding love, similar to the kind that God has for us, that does not change no matter what we do/who we are. It is love that grows from intimately knowing. (1 Sam. 16:7)

To learn to love defines us as children of Christ. "We are created in the image of our heavenly parents; we are God’s spirit children. Therefore, we have a vast capacity for love—it is part of our spiritual heritage" and God has designed and designated the family as part how we learn to become like him, through love (Uchtdorf). He also organized the church to do this.

We belong to the true church, where "there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve—or possibly even associate with—and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be “active”: to have a calling” and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other peoples ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen to other people’s sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous. Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical, and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them. It stretches and challenges us, though disappointed and exasperated, in ways we would not otherwise choose to be— and thus gives us a chance to be made better than we might choose to be, but ultimately need and want to be" (England 4).

It makes sense that love is the "greatest" commandment (Matt. 22:37-40). And so it makes sense that God would bless us through the grace of the "schools of love" to learn in every way possible to keep that commandment, to love as freely and powerfully as He loves us.
How clearly the Savior spoke when He said that every other commandment hangs upon the principle of love. If we do not neglect the great laws—if we truly learn to love our Heavenly Father and our fellowman with all our heart, soul, and mind—all else will fall into place (Uchtdorf).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unlikely Narratives by Margaret Manning

READ THIS: Today's Slice: Unlikely Narratives by Margaret Manning
"As I place myself in the narrative, I hear an invitation broad enough, wide enough, and good enough to include even me; it also reaches out and welcomes those I might not expect and bids me to serve alongside. It challenges me to leave my preconceptions behind, as the door to the kingdom of God swings open to fellow sinners who will become saints. And it ushers us in a community of new allegiances, a body only God could create and a story too good and too true."

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Years ago I read a short story by Orson Scott Card called "Mortal Gods" and the premise of it has never quite left my mind. 
In this short story, aliens peacefully arrive on Earth looking for the one thing they can never have: death. Because the aliens reproduce via mitosis each contains the memories of their predecessors. To them, human death is a miracle. One human, the elderly Mr. Crane, tries to convince the aliens that death is ugly and not worth fetishizing ("I'm about to die, and there's nothing great about it") but no matter what he says, they persist in seeing death as beautiful. The aliens insist that humans' "lives are built around death, glorifying it. Postponing it as long as possible, to be sure. But glorifying it. In the earliest literature, the death of the hero is the moment of greatest climax." Finally, Crane visits the aliens right as he's about to die, to show them how ugly death is — but they find it more beautiful than ever (source).
So when I happened to read this quote from the Japanse novel Kafka on the Shore the other day, I thought of this short story again
“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive” (source). 
So much of our ability to REALLY LIVE stems from the fact that we die, that we lose, and that we must to learn to appreciate all that we will inevitably be incapable of keeping. The prospect of loss does not detract from our experience of life and love but instead serves to intensify it. 

How many times have I had "that moment" -- of knowing this cannot last and wanting to fiercely hold on while I can, trying to consciously to savor it as much as possible...

And it all got me thinking about what Lehi taught about the purpose of life:
And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter (2 Ne. 2:15).
Opposition is at the heart of how God intends for us to experience life and to learn. Loss is at the center of what it means to really possess -- and death is what defines life. We truly "taste the bitter that [we] may know to prize the good" (Moses 6:55).

As my life continues forward I have become more and more aware of what I am losing -- which carries with it a sadness... but that awareness of loss also seems to enable me to more fully love and live, another form of grace.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

DOUBT (quote)

"...the Christian does not live by simply depending upon feelings. While feelings are important, they do not tell us what is real. They supplement the other facets of how God has made us as humans. The Christian worldview is a joining of heart, soul, mind, and strength to Father, Son, and Spirit. God is loved not just with emotions, but also with all bodily faculties, the will, and the mind."

"...while we are often hard on Thomas in our memory of him as the doubter, he is to be commended because he doubted so that he could believe. It was not a doubt that was destructive, but a doubt that led to a faith that would not fail him. A blind faith would not satisfy him; Thomas wanted to truly believe. Far from a troubling and shameful secret, doubt can be a gift. Where doubt leads us to investigate, God may well be leading, the Spirit enabling us to respond like Thomas to the evidence provided by the risen Jesus—with surrender: My Lord and my God."

-Cyril Georgeson

Friday, March 16, 2012

discernment i.e. christian decision making

I just finished reading Discerning the Will of God: An Ignatian Guide to Christian Decision Making by Timothy M. Gallagher OMV which was recommended to me by a friend. The ideas in the text are based in the methodology of Ignatius of Loyola and illustrated by various stories drawn from real life - from various people's efforts to make decisions guided by the will of God. 

It was definitely written for a Catholic audience, and some of the language and ideas weren't the most accessible to someone like me who is fairly unfamiliar with Catholicism. However, it was nonetheless a very moving book and I definitely felt the urge to make note of various concepts and suggestions. 

I want to turn my will to God -- to do His will faithfully and consistently but the process of learning to discern what His will IS and then resolutely making decisions isn't easy. It takes a lot of effort on our part and a strong desire to do God's will WHATEVER it may be. But it isn't all on us, Gallagher explains that discernment = human effort + God's grace. "Grace gives us courage to make our best effort to discern" and to hope w/a surety that God will guide that effort (134). 

Discernment can become "a way of living the choice" that emerges from the process -- the grace "isn't just the clarity of the past but a gift that shapes the entire living of the choice" (138).

Here are some of the profound suggestions Gallagher outlines to help us discern God's will:
  • Research well the options and gain the understanding necessary to consider the advantages/disadvantages - be sure to ask yourself if they are faith based reasons i.e. do you desire the end to which each choice is the means: to love God, promote his glory and progress towards him?
  • Pray for equilibrium and the gift of a mind that sees clearly with the will to follow - consider your choice in a tranquil time and make sure you are open to either option, whichever is God's will.
  • Consider sharing your efforts with a spiritual guide.
  • Ask yourself: What would I choose for someone I love and desire spiritual growth for? How would I counsel them in this situation?
  • Continually seek God's help in prayer and when you have made a choice, bring it to Him for confirmation. (pgs 108 & 119)

It is a hard process of yearning, searching, asking, and praying - and can take a long time - but this is all for a reason. Thru the process God helps us not only to do His will for us, which leads us to the greatest peace happiness, but to grow closer to him and to "finally know and believe" that he loves us (134).