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!