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