Friday, December 20, 2013

oppositions in the church

I wrote the following as a post script to my answer to a question posed to the Ask Angela column (go read the full response if ya like).
WHY OPPOSITIONS IN THE CHURCH ARE PRODUCTIVE : They push us toward a new kind of being.

Eugene England explained it this way: "In the life of the true Church, 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. ( )
I love that explanation because it conveys that it is also as much my responsibility to love and be patient with those who feel there is no place for "disruptive feminists," as it is their responsibility to accept and love "disruptive feminists." We are all a part of the "school of love" of belonging to a church full of people different from us.
Also, it's funny because we (my roommates and I) were just talking yesterday about how we have had to very quickly come to terms with the fact that, to be who we are and to say the things that we say, to speak out against what we view as ignorance and misunderstanding, means accepting the consequences... that we may create "contention" and be disliked. In a small way, it feels like how the prophets were stoned for saying what was hard for those around them to hear.
And in the midst of all of this we are to maintain a Christlike love for those who don't understand us and who "stone" us. It's good to be reminded that that they have a place in the body of Christ, the same as me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

love's greatest gift

I know a man who’s smart, kind, generous, and overall the sort of person you’d call first if you got into any kind of trouble. Unfortunately, he is also the worst story/joke/anecdote teller I have ever met. Worse, for some mysterious reason he delights in telling stories that have no point, jokes that aren’t funny, tedious anecdotes that meander forever and then just end. Like a highway in the middle of nowhere that abruptly stops because the builders ran out of money. Unfortunately this man enjoys holding the floor at parties and gatherings. Inevitably when he sees a chance, he jumps right into the fray with a “I heard a great joke—” or “The strangest thing happened to me this morning—” But his joke is never great and what happened to him that morning turns out to be a long and winding road to verbal nowhere. This man’s wife died recently and only now did I realize he lost among other things, his greatest audience. One of the endearing things about love is how it blinds us to certain obvious faults in our partners, despite the fact everyone else sees them. Once at a large party this man was telling a story. His wife was listening with a big smile and her full attention beaming 100 watts right at him. If you scanned the rest of the room you saw a lot of glazed eyes and looks of impatience. But not her. To her eyes, her husband had *grandezza*, the great Italian word that connotes not only greatness, but larger-than-lifeness. When he spoke, no one listened like she did, no matter what he was saying. And that might have been her greatest gift of all to him.
 — Jonathan Carroll

(I think I would go so far as to say that maybe it isn't a "blindness" to the faults of those we love -- but that because we love them that we can fully see them -- see past faults that would obstruct our vision -- and love them for who they truly are.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Paradox of Guilt

The Paradox of Guilt

I've been thinking lately about the complex nature of guilt. In rudimentary lessons on sin we are taught that it is one of the basic required steps of repentance to feel sorrow for what we have done; to feel guilt.

It is, in fact, in our moral nature to feel this. Eugene England quotes the words of Christ in John 9:41: "If ye were blind, ye should not sin, but now ye say, We see; therefor your sin remaineth" while pointing out that it is in acting in contrary to what we know to be right that we experience "the inner estrangement of guilt" and then goes on to explain: "We all know sin. We are inescapably moral by nature in that we cannot evade the question that finally comes into all reflection: "Am I justified?" We have eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and find the self of action tragically divided against the self of belief" (That they might not suffer: The gift of the Atonement 1).

We are divided in two -- what we know we should do and what we actually do. This division is exquisitely painful. So much so that in Alma 15:3 Zeezrom is described as being sick with a fever as the result of "the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness" and his sins "did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat."

There is such despair in knowing your have sinned -- that you have turned from God and rightness. This is compounded if you have hurt or brought down others as well. And then, worst of all, there is the disgust you feel for yourself when it something you have done before... something you tried so hard not to do again... and yet here you are again in your utter lack of self-control and total weakness.

Ultimately however, our sins and the accompanying guilt and sorrow are not meant to define us or rule over our lives. Our recognition and suffering is meant to springboard us to healing. In Alma 39:7-8 Alma explains to his erring son "I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good. But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day." We must see our guilt and feel guilty in order to have the impetus necessary to turn and face justice -- and with it, mercy and healing.

Elder Uchtdorf did a beautiful job of explaining this concept in a way which encourages us all: "The Apostle Paul taught that “godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation … but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”Godly sorrow inspires change and hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Worldly sorrow pulls us down, extinguishes hope, [tells us we are broken, damaged goods] and persuades us to give in to further temptation."

"Godly sorrow leads to conversion and a change of heart. It causes us to hate sin and love goodness. It encourages us to stand up and walk in the light of Christ’s love. True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment." (You Can Do it Now Oct. 2013)

Unfortunately too many suffer under the burden of guilt more than is necessary. Alma lovingly told his son that he "should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance" (Alma 42:29). When we choose to turn our face back to the Lord we must learn to let go of our guilt, and to permit others to do the same.

I feel like there is an unpleasant tendency in the church to turn sin into a monster. I understand why, and the intentions behind it aren't altogether bad. Our leaders are just trying to impress upon us the pitfalls of certain choices  -- and that it is good for us to avoid the suffering the accompanies our mistakes (though ultimately I think it is arrogant to assume we can avoid doing what we were sent here to do i.e. live, sin, & repent). But turning sin into a monster, to try and scare us away from it, just makes our association with the monster when we (inevitably) fall a major problem, because it makes us monstrous in our own eyes and often in the eyes of others. Think about who is often on the fringes of the church? It is those who keep making mistakes -- who we then distance ourselves from because they have been marked by the monster and we shake our heads at their association. We take a kind of pride in being someone who "doesn't make those kinds of mistakes" [never, not once] which, as pride always does, places enmity between us and God as it puts the emphasis on our works over His grace. It also makes our fall much harder if we do make "that kind" of mistake. Rather than being just a fallible human being making totally natural errors, we are marked as a sinner who associated with the monster -- and even once we have resolved, repented of, and been forgiven we carry "the mark" and its attendant guilt.

It is common in the church to overly-dispense guilt. It seems to be common to many churches -- and is the general stereotype of religion; one fairly accurately born of historic roots [see: every hellfire and damnation sermons of the 19th & 20th century] as obedience has been so often taught as something we must do to avoid being a sinner i.e. scum. We heap it on ourselves and others. We slip into taking what is meant to be merely an ignition and we fan it into a roaring blaze that consumes us.

Instead, we should be much quicker to move on, and not try and "use" guilt to promote obedience. Joseph Smith stated: "Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind" (History of the Church, 5:23–24). Fanning the flames of guilt only makes the course of repentance more difficult -- the the depths of despair seem increasingly bottomless.

The division between us and God -- between what we want to do and what we are able to do, is already great enough (see Romans 7:14-25 & 8:1-6), we don't need to wallow in it or rub it in each others open wounds.

It is the purpose of the Atonement to resolve this division and reveal the truth within the paradox of guilt that debases... but ultimately exalts. Because the law, and our morality, point us in the direction we should go, what we must do, and who we must become, it also becomes "a terrible burden because humans always fail to some degree in living it fully; it therefor stands as a continual reminder of our failure -- a failure that the law's framework of justice demands be paid for, but which we are incapable of paying for. God pierces to the heart of this paradox through the Atonement, and it becomes possible for us personally to experience both alienation and reconciliation, which opens us to the full meaning of both evil and good, bringing us to a condition of meekness and lowliness of heart where we can freely accept from God the power to be a god (That they might not suffer: The gift of the Atonement England 7).

Alma 42:30:
"O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility."

We must not deny the guilt of sin or the justice of God -- but we must not deny the humility it brings and thus the promised healing  -- of inner & outer conflict as well as forgiveness from others as well as the power to forgive oneself, and find that which is "large enough in love to reach past the wrongs we have done and can never fully make restitution for; that there be hope in the possibility that anyone can be renewed by specific means to a life of greater justice and mercy toward others" (That they might not suffer: The gift of the Atonement  England 2).

Someday I will get to stop failing. In the meantime, the redemptive forgiveness of God makes my failure a school of Godliness.

It takes a kind of emotional self discipline not to allow ourselves to give into guilt, regret, and despair. Continually reminding ourselves of the meaning of God's love can provide the sustenance necessary to give our will the power to maintain realistic expectations of ourselves and others -- and not give into regret, which is ultimately useless. Instead we should respond with "Now that I know more from my mistake, I'll understand things, and myself, better and I will do better next time." After all, “Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment" ((Why the True Church Cannot be Perfect Terry  99).

We must not to sit under the weight of our mistakes, but see them as experience and knowledge -- a chance to better understand ourselves and the human condition; what this all says about me, the truth of my weaknesses, and what it means for me to be in mortality.

Adam and Eve chose to give us the venue for this experience, a fallen world where we experience life as fallen creatures. We were perfect spiritual beings -- and now we are having the experience of imperfection; to be humbled by it, to learn about and experience good & evil, to acquire empathy and charity, and to become like God.  Rather than thinking of this life as a test that we often "fail," (though I would go so far as to say that sinning is not failing -- and is in fact what enables us to actually succeed) I think it's more useful to think of it as a laboratory "God’s grand laboratory — where we are allowed to experiment with dangerous substances" and through trial and error "we are able to apply our minds, hearts, ingenuity, initiative, and faith in creating crude approximations of something truly wonderful" ((Why the True Church Cannot be Perfect Terry 100).

As part of the process of repentance we must learn look at ourselves objectively -- and be as fair and kind as God. He loves us in our sins. His love permits us to be at one with ourselves, even in the midst of our continual inability to always do what is right. This is the peace that the Atonement offers us, to live daily in "the shock of eternal love expressed in Gethsemane" and the be infused with the power to resist needless suffering from our mistakes though the understanding that "If God can have this kind of love for me, who am I to withhold it from myself?" (That they might not suffer: The gift of the Atonement 11-12).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

here, we have no continuing city

If the Christian Revelation is true, then it must be true for all times and in all circumstances. Whatever may happen, however seemingly inimical to it may be the way the world is going and those who preside over its affairs, its truth remains intact and inviolate. “Heaven and Earth shall pass way,” Our Lord said, “but my words shall not pass away.” Our Western Civilization, like others before it, is subject to decay, and must sometime or other decompose and disappear. The world's way of responding to intimations of decay is to engage equally in idiot hopes and idiot despair. On the one hand, some new policy or discovery is confidently expected to put everything to rights: a new fuel, a new drug, détente, world government, North Sea oil, revolution, or counter-revolution. On the other, some disaster is confidently expected to prove our undoing: capitalism will break down; communism won't work; fuel will run out; plutonium will lay us low; atomic waste will kill us off; overpopulation will suffocate us all or alternatively a declining birth rate will put us at the mercy of our enemies. In Christian terms such hopes and fears are equally beside the point. As Christians, we know that here we have no continuing city. The crowns roll in the dust and every earthly kingdom must sometime flounder.  --Malcom Muggeridge

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Perhaps a sin that humbles you is better than a good deed that makes you arrogant.
- Hamza Yusuf

storms & grace

But it is in storms that He does his finest work, for it is in storms that He has our keenest attention.      -Max Lucado

I've been thinking a lot about opposition/ trials/ sadness/ trouble/ sin/ weakness/ difficulty i.e. everything that isn't easy about life and that we tend not to equate with happiness.  In the set-up for the quote above, the author brings up how we often expect God to come to us in "peaceful hymns or Easter Sundays or quiet retreats" and that we don't anticipate "to see him in a bear market, pink slip, lawsuit, foreclosure, or war" (source).

When I consider the moments when I felt the Spirit the strongest, when I reflect on the times I changed the most, when I admit to myself when I felt the closest to my Savior... it was in the midst of opposition/ trials/ sadness/ trouble/ sin/ weakness/ difficulty -- it was in the storms.

And this is all obvious stuff right? I'm not telling you anything you haven't heard before. But I feel the need to share this now because I realized that for me, there was a definable moment when this concept really sunk in... and it changed EVERYTHING... it changed me...

 I guess it was almost like in Mosiah, after King Benjamin finishes speaking to his people, and they say:
 "Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually." (Mosiah 5:2)
In my case, I read something, I don't even remember what exactly (an article in The Ensign I think?) along the lines of how every trial comes to us with a gift in its hands -- and I felt the truth of it so strongly. But then it didn't stop there, because from that moment on, without that much conscious effort on my part, I just started planning out how to find that gift -- I began anticipating and searching for God as I entered each new struggle. It wasn't a gradual shift, like so many others in my life (and how change usually happens) but a complete switch in my attitude towards hard things in my life which reflected in many of my actions --  suddenly my heart was just different.

It wasn't nearly so grand as the people of King Benjamin, or so complete a turn around like that of Alma the Younger or Paul. It was, in the scheme of things, a very small thing in a life still very much in need of many more changes... but it is still nonetheless a real moment in my life when I experienced a near instantaneous change in my heart.

To someone who has had to be forcefully molded bit by bit, bent a little trial by trial, & made to understand truth sliver by sliver, this small yet huge opening of the windows of heaven is a true indicator to me of the love, tender mercy, and grace of my Heavenly Father. To me it shows that while yes, it is in the storms that God does great work on our souls, there are times when He will simply reach into our open hearts and lift us gently to a higher and nobler place.

Friday, August 30, 2013

happiness or wholeness

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
- Hugh Mackay

Thursday, August 29, 2013


Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging
- Brené Brown Daring Greatly

Thursday, August 8, 2013

why i stay

Today, while reading and responding to a personal email, I got to thinking about why I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Which, coincidently, my roommate and I were talking about just yesterday.

We both agreed that when we think about "the institution" of the church, there's enough there for either of us to just pick up and leave the church (with a bad taste in our mouthes) at any given moment. That being said, we discussed how spirituality is about individual communion with God AS WELL AS gathering with a fellowship of Christians -- that there's something about coming together with others, with "the body of Christ," that is absolutely critical to the experience of God (a lot of things actually but that's a topic for another day) So, to us that's part of why choosing a religion to gather with is so important. Every institution of any church is flawed -- but they all offer an opportunity to come together as a community, and community is important.

As I've gotten older however, I've realized that some communities are better for certain people than others...and many seem to be called to the place where they can find God in a way that fits them. God knows us, and if we are seeking Him, He will guide us to the best path for each of us individually to find and know Him. To be honest, I am not always sure that being part of the modern mormon community is the best fit for me... I have always sorta been on the fringes -- too stubborn to conform to the culture and always asking controversial/disconcerting questions. BUT then again, maybe that is why it IS a good fit -- it has been a challenge in many ways, and a rough stone needs to roll through rough terrain to become smooth...

That being said, what it all finally comes down to is this: The personal relationship that I have developed with God through belonging to the LDS church is the most precious things that I have in my life -- and it has been belonging to the LDS church, with its strengths and weaknesses, that this relationship has come; the doctrines, the experiences I've had (good & bad), the quirks of the culture, the people (wonderful ones & difficult ones), the inspiriting as well as terrible history -- everything is a part of me and has shaped who I am…... and it has also provided me with the opportunities to know God.

To me, that is a "true church" -- one that is bringing me to Christ -- so, because it is true for me, that is why, despite (or perhaps even because of...) doubts, discouragement, contradiction, hypocrisy, etc. I choose to stay. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Heavenly Mother

I'll start with just the basic description from Wikipedia -- which more-or-less encapsulates everything I've ever really known about her.

In Mormonism, Heavenly Mother or the Mother in Heaven is the mother of human spirits and the wife of God the Father. 
Although there is no clear record of Joseph Smith teaching of Heavenly Mother publicly, several of Smith's contemporaries attributed the theology to him either directly, or as a consequence of his theological stance. An editorial footnote of History of the Church, 5:254, presumably quotes Joseph Smith as saying: "Come to me; here's the mysteries man hath not seen, Here's our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen." In addition, a secondhand account states that in 1839, Joseph Smith had told Zina Diantha Huntington, after the death of her mother, that "not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but 'more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven'."[6]:65 
In addition, members of the Anointed Quorum, a highly select leadership group in the early church that was privy to Smith's teachings, also acknowledged the existence of a Heavenly Mother.[6]:65–67[7] Also, the Times and Seasons published a letter to the editor from a person named "Joseph's Specked Bird" in which the author stated that in the pre-Earth life, the spirit "was a child with his father and mother in heaven".[8] 
In 1845, after the murder of Joseph Smith, the poet Eliza Roxcy Snow, published a poem entitled My Father in Heaven, (later titled Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother, now used as the lyrics in the popular Latter-day Saint hymn O My Father), acknowledging the existence of a Heavenly Mother.

And that's about it. A mention or two of her in the manuals of the church and nothing more except the kind of "folklore-doctrine" that gets passed around but doesn't satisfy. (Though, for an interesting historical survey of the teachings about her, you can go to BYU Studies for a great article.)

This last week I went to a Sunstone symposium presentation on Heavenly Mother. It was beautiful and touching and I wanted to mention a few of the ideas that resonated with me.

The first that there are others out there who also hunger to know our Heavenly Mother. This was emphasized over and over by the first presenter -- and she read this touching post from The Exponent: 

Dear Mom,
It was hard growing up without you. I love Dad and he was really good at a lot of stuff, but it wasn’t the same as having a mother. I knew you were out there somewhere, but I couldn’t talk to you. I couldn’t get advice. I couldn’t see what I was going to look like when I got older, or what a lady is really like. I only knew what Dad said they were like and I never seemed to relate much to his flawless descriptions of selfless, compassionate, spiritual women. I mean I like all of those qualities. I want to be like that, but I also have another side. A tough, adventurous, foul-mouthed, chase the boys, win the competition, ask a lot of questions, pity no fools, side. In fact, I’ve always imagined you with a little smirk leaning over the kitchen doorway secretly encouraging this other side while you dispassionately say, “Now child, behave."
But that is all there is. My imagination. Because I don’t really know anything about you. I don’t know what you do or who you are. I don’t know if you are powerful and strong or submissive and meek. I don’t even know if you remember or even care about me. All Dad will say is that you exist and that I’m not supposed to talk about you. I don’t know what that means. My brothers say it is because you are so fragile that if we talked about you and said something mean it would be bad. That used to make sense to me. I just accepted it as normal. I mean I didn’t know any different. But I just had my first baby. A daughter. She’s the greatest thing in my whole life. When she laughs it feels like my heart is skydiving, when she cries it feels like my heart is breaking. I would do anything for this child. I have given up large parts of my body, my career, my love life, my time, energy, and self for this little girl. And I would do it again. Over and over. 
But I would never abandon her. I would never leave her. I would never willingly choose to end communication with her. Or ignore her during her difficult moments–the times when she is begging for a mom. 
It was hard growing up without you. I needed a mom to teach me about boys, sex, modesty, my body, heartbreak, hormones, friendships, love, death, and life. I needed a mom to help me through my pregnancy, labor, birth, nursing, and all the sleepless nights and hair pulling days. No matter how thoughtful Dad was he could never come close to understanding this stuff. He could never understand what it feels like to belong to a family where the women are silent and the men make decisions. Where femininity is a caricature of personhood. Where no matter where I go, what I do, or who I talk to I am a girl first and a person second. 
I’m a mother now. What used to suffice now stings. I don’t care any longer what excuses people have made for you. You should have been here. You should have cared. You should have helped me in my difficult moments and taught me how to be a sister, daughter, mother, friend, aunt, cousin, wife, grandma, and woman. You should have helped me with the things that Dad and brothers didn’t understand. You should not have abandoned me. I will never do that to my daughter. I will do anything it takes to keep her safe, to protect her, to support her, to encourage her, to help her, to teach her, to love her. Anything. There are no excuses that satisfy my heart of why you are absent from my life.
Your Heavenly Daughter

I used to blame church patriarchy for the absence of Heavenly Mother in LDS doctrine and rhetoric. Then I realized that I am treating her exactly like I don’t want to be treated: as silent support staff for the real work of men. If I treat her like a God, like someone with power, position, and priestesshood, then new feelings emerge. I feel angry. I feel sad. I feel abandoned and confused.
We want to know her -- as our mother, to feel her take on an active roll in our lives. We as women also want to know her in order to know ourselves:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God” (Teachings,345). In other words, one of the foundation stones of the restored gospel is a knowledge of what kind of being God actually is. But not only do we need to understand what kind of being God is, we must come to know God. In the same sermon from which we just quoted, the Prophet Joseph further stated, “If any man does not know God, . . . he will realize that he has not eternal life; for there can be eternal life on no other principle” (Teachings, 344). In His great high-priestly or Intercessory Prayer, the Savior confirmed that life eternal was to “know . . . the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [the Father] hast sent” (John 17:3). 
Thus everything of sacred significance connected with our future rests on both our coming to know about God the Eternal Father and, ultimately, our coming to know Him. “If men do not comprehend the character of God,” said Joseph Smith, “they do not comprehend themselves” (Teachings, 343). God and men are of the same divine, eternal species, and if we do not comprehend the nature of God, we cannot appreciate our divine parentage nor the very real potential we possess to become like our heavenly parents. (source)
Doesn't it seem so much more difficult to understand your divine potential as a woman without a feeling of what it is to be a divine woman? Without knowing, through shared experiences and a growing relationship, the character and personage of She to whom we resemble and are meant to become like? If I cannot comprehend her -- can I comprehend myself?

We are taught that She exists but  to go about knowing who She is and building a relationship with her is something we have to figure out for ourselves. However, as the second presenter so aptly put it, without clear instruction from authorities of the church "she becomes what we want her to be what we need her to be -- and isn't that what religion is anyway?" Not that we necessary create doctrinal truths to offer up to the world about Heavenly Mother. But instead, by sharing our hunger for her and what we find as we seek after her, we open the door to experiences that can enrich our lives and resonate with others -- through the confirmation of the Spirit we can begin to know Her.

It's a journey I am happy and hopeful to turn to.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

keep your heart and mind open

...reposted from jim's blog :

 We are given minds and imaginations that can freely tread into heavenly matters. The desire to see God seems to be set upon our hearts no matter the culture or creed we are raised with. “Show me your glory,” Moses implored of God. “Show us the Father,” the disciples pled with Jesus. But we cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end anymore than we can fathom God, and for this God seems to remind us of our limitations.  
We will be shown the Father; we are shown God’s glory; we are continually given glimpses of a self-revealing God. And yet we are warned not to make any of it into an idol lest we miss God in the midst of it. In a letter to a younger colleague, poet and professor Stanley Wiersma advised, “When you are too sure about God and faith, you are sure of something other than God: of dogma, of the church, of a particular interpretation of the Bible. But God cannot be pigeonholed. We must press toward certainty, but be suspicious when it comes too glibly.” 
“Show us the Father” is a hope our hearts were meant to utter (Moses cried out for it, so did the apostles) and it is also a longing God has promised will be answered—from cultures and ages past to our own today: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. - Thoughtful Idols 

It is so easy for us to “pigeonhole” God, but it’s important to remember that “we believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe he will yet reveal many great and important things.” We need to be open to change when He does.

Monday, July 8, 2013


"If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"   --- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

fortune cookies

My roommate loves fortune cookies. Anytime we go to a restaurant that gives them out at the end of the meal, she has a little ritual of divining who each cookie, and therefor the accompanying fortune, truly belongs to. It's funny and fun -- and makes the fortune experience a little more mystical :)

One of the reasons I love fortune cookies, and along those same lines, horoscopes and other types of sign reading, is because they are short and specific enough to give me something to think about, while remaining vague and "catch-all" enough that I can contextualize them with whatever I want from my own life. I know that's why many people say they are ridiculous, that anyone can make them true anytime, but for me, that's what makes them legit for me. Yes I can apply whatever I want, but it gives me a framework to consider them in.

"Knock and your dreams will be answered" can apply to anyone and anything -- but specific to me right now I can apply it to one thing that I really want. And it gets me thinking about it, and how I CAN do things -- I can knock -- in order to achieve what I desire. Maybe getting a boost of motivation from a cookie is silly, but as humans it is in our nature of our basic psychology to make connections, and in a way there is a kind of power in even the smallest perception... You kinda just have to be open to it.

If you think about it... isn't this what the scriptures and words of the prophets are supposed to do? I'm not trying to demean the scriptures, there is more power in them than in all the fortune cookies in the world, but the idea of how they work within us is very similar... I mean really -- short and sweet nuggets of gospel wisdom actually do the same thing as a fortune, just in a much more real (meaningful, faith promoting, empowering) way because there is a depth and resonance to gospel truths that fortunes/predictions don't have, especially with the backing confirmation of the Spirit. They still maintain the necessary space for anyone to "fill in the blanks" as to how it can apply to their particular life but they can give a framework for making choices. It is fun to read "knock and your dreams will be answered," and it's something I can believe in, but there is something much more faith-promoting to read the Lord himself say "knock and it shall be opened unto you." The premise may be similar, and whatever it is in my life that I need a boost in order to "knock on" could be the same in either situation, but my faith -- and thereby the accompanying power -- is going to rest in my confidence in the Lord, not just in the words/ideas, but in Him, His character and promises. And that is why I see this as a type of grace, an enabling power we can tap into to accomplish what we might not otherwise be able to do if left to our own means. It's one thing to believe in an idea, it's another to believe in, and trust, the author.

(What do you think?)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Deep Evil & Deep Good

It seems obvious, almost cliche, that any discussion of evil leads to a discussion of the Holocaust. But, not only did what happened there take "on a scope and a character that had never before been witnessed in human affairs" it also "reflected broader patterns of human cruelty" & "social and psychological factors" that are by no means unique to this one time/place/society (Bess 111).

For this reason, the Holocaust lends itself to study -- to comparison. Specifically I want to highlight points made by Michael Bess in his book Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of WWII as he compares reservists in Police Battalion 101 "a low-level, semi-military organization whose purpose was to serve as  home guard in Germany" and their 11-month killing spree through Poland (Bess 113) with the people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a village in a secluded mountainous area in south-central France, and their efforts feed, shelter, and smuggle to safety thousands of Jews in the space of four years (Bess 115). (The chapter from Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of WWII that I am more-or-less summarizing here, "Deep Evil and Deep Good" is phenomenal, and one that I would recommend reading it its entirety, especially if the concepts of this post strike a chord [it was recommended to me by my roommate Marlee.])  

The reservists, middle-aged working-class civilians, were not obligated by the commanding officers to shoot Jewish men, women, and children or to wade through the piles of bodies but they "got used it, after a while" (Bess 114).

The people of Le Chambon were led by "Protestant pastor André Trocmé who, with his assistant, Edouard Theis, served as a spiritual catalyst" preaching the kind of non-violence that the people of La Chambon, with their religious minority status in Catholic France & heritage of religious persecution and, embraced (Bess 115-116). After France was defeated by the Germans, the parish of Pastors Trocmé  and Theis made immediate and obvious efforts avoid conforming "to the new racial laws and quasi-fascist rhetoric" with "relatively small symbolic acts" that could show their commitment to resistance. "We will resist," they told their parishioners, "whenever our adversaries will demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel. We will do so without fear, but also without pride and without hate" (Bess 116).

Without ever explicitly asking that the people of La Chambon commit to the dangerous task of taking in Jewish refugees, Trocmé  and Theis "urged their flock to look into their own conscience and take whatever steps they deemed appropriate. The result was the gradual emergence, among the townsfolk and farmers from the surrounding countryside, of an improvised, secret, and highly decentralized network of rescue" (Bess 117). Years later when asked by interviewers for a film "how they managed to do this remarkable thing: an old farmer and his wife" simply "shrug their shoulders. They look down. They give a soft little smile. The interviewer persists: Where did you find such courage? Again the shrug, the smile. 'Oh, you know. After a while we got used to it.' " (Bess 118).

These two groups of people, who in many ways would have been indistinguishable, are ripe for the study of "how seemingly ordinary people could wind up as mass murders or as heroes" (Bess 119).  Is character to blame? Or situational factors? Or, is it a combination of the two?

Bess refers to the experiments of Stanley Milgram  and how they "cast important retrospective light on the behavior of Reserve Battalion 101" in the context of the "extreme circumstances of Nazi-occupied Poland" as well as how peer influence can cause people to do "extraordinary things," which in this instance "did not take the form of bravely facing combat together; rather, in consisted in steeling oneself to do ones part in carrying out the awful duty that they all shared" -- to refuse "became a 'betrayal' of the unity as a whole: it violated the ethic of comradeship in wartime" (Bess 124-125).

Bess also refers to the work of Phillip Zimbardo & the Stanford Prison Experiment where "the parallels with the behavior of Reserve Battalion 101 are too striking to ignore: seemingly normal individuals, placed in a position of absolute power over other human beings, rapidly degenerating into an astonishing array of inhumane behaviors" (127).

What these three situations seem to illustrate, says Bess, is that "the ability to resist even the most blatant evil, it turns out, is not nearly so robust as we might be inclined to believe" (128).

But that power to resists does exist, and the story of La Chambon is what provides the insight to where it can come from.

"Nonviolene and charity for Trocmé and Theis, meant more than just being kind to one's neighbor: they were dynamic forces that reached out to transform the world. In dark times like these, true Christian faith required taking the initiative to go out and oppose the evil that was being perpetrate throughout Europe" (Bess 117). This resonated with the Chambonnais and brought them together.

"At the same time, however, the ultimate roots of their motivation remained deeply personal in nature. Trocmé and Theis did not impose their views by force of will, but primarily by their own example. Each villager's choice to join the rescue effort, or to remain more on the sidelines, was left entirely up to that individual's temperament and conscience." Bess quotes Philip Hallie saying that:
[Trocmé] believed that if you choose to resist evil, and you choose this firmly, then ways of carrying out that resistance will open up around you. His kind of originality generated originality in others. It did not stifle that originality, the way a dictator using fear and hypnotic charisma stifles the originality of his followers. 

Also, "Religion clearly played a pivotal role in Le Chambon --- but what made all the difference was the radical interpretation of Christianity espoused by pastors Trocmé  and Theis. One scholar, Rene Girard, has aptly referred to it as "disruptive empathy": a combination of ardent solidarity with persecuted people, coupled with a willingness to shatter conventional behavior patterns in the act of reaching out to them" (Bess 128)

According to Bess, to be "a highly evolved moral agent" with disruptive empathy relies on several important elements: a "reliance on critical reason," the ability to put oneself in another's shoes, belief higher moral principles, an "unshakeable confidence" in one's own free will, and "a willingness to submit" one's "behavior to stern moral scrutiny" and to stop a "situation's momentum, breaking the facade of normality by crying foul" (131).

"The villagers of Le Chambon had been quietly but very deliberately preparing themselves, over years and years, for precisely the kind of moral challenge that the war ultimately presented. Partly through their own initiative, and partly through the leadership of their pastors, they had gradually shaped themselves as moral actors: cultivating the critical skills with which to question external authority; honing their sense of right and wrong through reflection; practicing the translation of abstract ideals into concrete action; experiencing their own power to make choices and to see those choices bear fruit; building the tools of moral judgment, and applying those tools time and again to the scrutiny of their own behavior. They carried out this process through the pursuit of their religion, but it was a highly distinctive religious practice that they undertook: the apparent simplicity of their adherence to the Gospel should not mislead us. Like athletes training for a race to be run at some indeterminate point in the future, they incorporated in the course of their daily lives a systematic effort of ethical and spiritual self-fashioning: unobtrusively, without fuss or fanfare, they build up an exceptionally strong constitution of dependent thinking and moral fiber (131).

In contrast, "the moral background of the police reservists had sufficed quite well to prepare them for roles as upstanding citizens in peacetime; but when faced with the extreme trial of the Holocaust, most of them simply lacked the internal resources -- the habits of mind and heart -- with which to assert a dissenting voice. Because their "character" remained shallow and immature, the majority of them succumbed to the powerful pull of "situational factors" (Bess 133).

Finally, I would like to end with what all of this points towards for us, now: "We are responsible for shaping ourselves or decades of time, as ever more effective moral agents. We have a choice, not only in how to act at any given moment, but also a broader choice about the long-term orientation of our life's purpose" ... "Do we, or do we not, take responsibility for the sustained struggle that is needed to become a different person from who we are today: more fully sovereign over our fears, more incisively self-aware, more sharply attuned to the needs of strangers? Whether or not we ourselves will ever face a trial commensurate with the one confronted by the Chambonnais, their deeds still present us with this question: do we choose for ourselves their clarity of purpose?" (Bess 134).

Friday, May 31, 2013

Returning a more real you to yourself

“We were each other’s big, real hope and luckily recognized it fast. When good fortune pulls up in front of you too quickly, it can make you suspicious. You hesitate before getting in. But both of us had been through enough lonely times to know there were only so many chances at contentment with another person. In other words, don’t think too long before acting.

In his ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ Rilke copies down one of his correspondent Kappus’s poems and sends it back to the young man, saying, ‘And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.

For some reason, the idea of this great man hand-copying a fan’s poem and sending it to him has always touched me deeply. What generosity! Who would ever think of doing that?

But then I met her, and she took much of what I was or believed and, putting her own stamp on it, handed it back to me as if I had never seen it before. Perhaps that is what love is—another’s desire to return you to yourself enhanced by their vision, graced by their handwriting."


This is true of the love I have experienced in my own life. Specifically, my mother comes to mind. No one I have known has helped me to see my "innermost being" in the light that she has. But... even more completely than that, is who I see through the love I experience from God. Because isn't this what He asks of us? To give ourselves to Him -- and then to have ourselves returned enhanced by His vision, enlarged by His perspective, seeing ourselves through His eyes and love?

Monday, April 15, 2013

not shrinking is better than surviving

Elder Bednar gave a CES address that I listened to after the fact (thanks to my roommate who put it on in the living room) and I was touched by the strange way (strange? I guess in the gospel it's never strange... instead, a tender mercy that still can catch one off guard) what he spoke of so aptly set out to sooth the tender places within my own heart.

At the core of his stories and words of guidance was this: that staying faithful to the promises of the Lord is more important than receiving the promises.

"Many of the lessons we are to learn in mortality can only be received through the things we experience and sometimes suffer," he said. He reflected on time spent with Elder Neal A. Maxwell before his death: "During the course of our conversations that day, I asked Elder Maxwell what lessons he had learned through his illness," Elder Bednar said. "I will remember always the precise and penetrating answer he gave. 'Dave,' he said, 'I have learned that not shrinking is more important than surviving.'"

To further illustrate this he told the story of a newly married couple who faced the extraordinary challenge of cancer when he was diagnosed and they began a long fight with the illness. When they asked for a blessing, with the expectation of one of healing, Elder Bednar asked first if they had the faith "not to be healed."

"In other words, [they] needed to overcome, through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the 'natural man' tendency in all of us to demand impatiently and insist incessantly on the blessings we want and believe we deserve," he said. "We recognized a principle that applies to every devoted disciple: strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives — even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted," he said.

"Even with strong faith, many mountains will not be moved," he said. "And not all of the sick and infirmed will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father's plan would be frustrated."

...the purpose of changing us the way that only a great challenge can do. The way only a trial of our faith can teach us patience and humility -- and put us is the position where our choice to continue in faith has real significance because it was not easy to do so.

Sister Bednar also spoke -- before her husband, but I feel her words apply here. She spoke of the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ which "strengthens us to do hard things, things we don't think we can do when we don't understand God's will and timing in our lives."

We are all asked to continue on doing hard things that we, at times, feel are beyond our strength. To continue on not receiving the blessings we righteously desire and have been told we need not "earn" because the Lord desires to bless us, and yet only see given to others. We cannot fully understand why and in the depths of our despair the only question we have to ask is "why?"

But to continue on trusting God, even when our lives take a direction we do not desire and our hopes are not met is to stay faithful to the promises of God even when it seems those promises will not be fulfilled. And staying faithful is more important than receiving -- even when it breaks our hearts.

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart;

Sunday, April 14, 2013

looking back for reassurance

“Why do we look back at the thing we just tripped over, both literally and symbolically in life? Is it some kind of reality check? Do we do it to make sure the object is there to certify we stumbled over *something* and not just our own clumsiness or wrong actions? Whether it’s a broken sidewalk or a broken love affair, we almost always look back— often more than once." JONATHAN CARROLL

Saturday, April 13, 2013

No Man's Land: Eternity is a Long Time

I just read this post and you should too: No Man's Land: Eternity is a Long Time "One time a pen pal of mine asked me if he should get married, not to anyone in particular, just kind of a quandary about the whole institution..."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Brahms Intermezzo A Major Op 118 No 2

My dad sent this, stating that: "It is a beautiful and introspective piece of music. Brahms at the end, contemplating his life, its wonder, and its grace. I get tears in my eyes each time I hear it."

I have listened to it on repeat this morning and each time it becomes better.

p.s. Brahms wrote this as he was watching all of his friends pass away. I've read that he wrote "easy" pieces like this for Clara Schumann as she was in too much pain to play more complex pieces. A heartfelt gift to an old and dear friend in her twilight.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter weekend

I read this article today about the unexpectedness of the events of Easter and it totally connects to my post on the resurrection from over a year ago. Read 'em both! ;)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

God's open arms

I read a wonderful article "on being surprised by God" (you should read it) where the author made the point that "God is more liberal in His views and more boundless in His mercies than we are ready to believe or receive" (Aaron R.).

This is a concept I began to believe in an abstract way through my interactions with others. Watching someone live a truly GOOD life outside of "the true church" you can't help but feel that God is more liberal than we often assume Him to be. That His heart and His arms are more inclusive than we anticipate.

A few years ago, my family was discussing a relative (a brother of my grandmother) who was a wonderful and honorable man -- a man my dad and all my uncles looked up to and admired -- who had left the church. My uncle surprised me by turning to me asking if I thought a man like this would be excluded from the Celestial Kingdom. In that moment, recalled in my mind a lesson from an institute class, where we had attempted to figure out the percentages of those that would be saved using the scriptures (for example: more than 50% of those born on earth die before the age of accountability [most in infancy] so we are already seeing the majority saved!) and with that in mind I responded "I think God will save a lot more of us than we give Him credit for." My uncle smiled and agreed with me, and it wasn't too long after that I had that validated in my mind and heart again. I was reading Stephen E. Robinson's book Following Christ and I came across the parable of the diver:
“Many years ago, when I was somewhere between nine and eleven, I participated in a community summer recreation program in the town where I grew up. I remember in particular a diving competition for the different age groups held at the community swimming pool. Some of the wealthier kids in our area had their own pools with diving boards, and they were pretty good amateur divers. But there was one kid my age from the less affluent part of town who didn’t have his own pool. What he had was raw courage. While the rest of us did our crisp little swan dives, back dives, and jackknives, being every so careful to arch our backs and point our toes, this young man attempted back flips, one-and-a-halfs, doubles, and so on. But, oh, he was sloppy. He seldom kept his feet together, he never pointed his toes, and he usually missed his vertical entry. The rest of us observed with smug satisfaction as the judges held up their scorecards that he consistently got lower marks than we did with our safe and simple dives, and we congratulated ourselves that we were actually the better divers. “He is all heart and no finesse,” we told ourselves. “After all, we keep our feet together and point our toes.”

“The announcement of the winners was a great shock to us, for the brave young lad with the flips had apparently beaten us all. However, I had kept rough track of the scores in my head, and I knew with the arrogance of limited information that the math didn’t add up. I had consistently outscored the boy with the flips. And so, certain that an injustice was being perpetrated, I stormed the scorer’s table and demanded and explanation. “Degree of difficulty,” the scorer replied matter-of-factly as he looked me in the eye. “Sure, you had better form, but he did harder dives. When you factor in the degree of difficulty, he beat you hands down, kid.” Until that moment I hadn’t know that some dives were awarded “extra credit” because of their greater difficulty. . . . ."

“Whenever I am tempted to feel superior to other Saints, the parable of the divers comes to my mind, and I repent. At least at a swim meet, we can usually tell which dives are the most difficult. But here in mortality, we cannot always tell who is carrying what burdens: limited intelligence, chemical depression, compulsive behaviors, learning disabilities, dysfunctional or abusive family background, poor health, physical or psychological handicaps—no one chooses these things. So I must not judge my brothers and sisters. I am thankful for my blessings but not smug about them, for I never want to hear the Scorer say to me, “Sure, you had better form, but she had a harder life. When you factor in degree of difficulty, she beat you hands down.”

"So, enduring to the end doesn’t have much to do with suffering in silence, overcoming all life’s obstacles, or even achieving the LDS ideal (“pointing our toes” and “keeping our feet together”). It just means not giving up. It means keeping—to the best of our abilities—the commitments we made to Christ when we entered into the marriage of the gospel. It means not divorcing the Savior or cheating on him by letting some other love become more important in our lives. It means not rejecting the blessings of the atonement that he showered upon us when we entered his church and kingdom." (Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Divers and More Good News [Salt Lake city: Deseret Book, 1995], 34-38.)
Comprehending and appreciating this means seeing that God really is aware and accepting of the trials and difficulties of our lives, and that while this doesn't change his expectations of us and for us, it does make Him much more merciful that we often think of Him to be. (Or are ourselves towards others. 1 Samuel 16:7 "...the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.")

I came to believe this in a more real and personal way through my own experience of God's mercy. The author of that first article wrote that "being surprised by God is part of the process of repentance" and I can testify to the truthfulness of that statement (Aaron R.). It has been in the moments following my mistakes, the ones that leave me asking "who am I to do something like this?" and feeling as though I could never reclaim my former self, that I have, through repentance, been surprised at how easily I am forgiven and how quickly I am able to return to a full spiritual life. God's mercy has surprised me. 

In Matt 23:37 the Savior laments " often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings but ye would not." I think at times we "would not" because we think that in our sinful state (in our "messy house") we cannot be gathered. And while "we ‘have every reason to believe Him to be’ a certain way because we inhabit a world that is laden with false assumptions or misapprehension about God’s purposes or plan.  The gospel is a call to enter into a covenantal relationship within Him in order that He can reveal Himself to us, and through that process disabuse us of those false notions.  In that process, there will be moments when we realize that God must be a ‘very different individual from what [we] have every reason to believe him to be’ " (Aaron R.).  

These will be the moments where we are surprised by how open God's arms really are. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

communal fellowship

I just read a little article on the sacrament and it reminded me of what I wrote in another post about how salvation is rooted in others – in relationships – in LOVE.  The end of the article states that Christ used the temple to illustrate "a communal fellowship of love" and that:
"If this interpretation is right, and I think it is, remember this when you next take the sacrament: it is not the emblems that are really holy and they themselves are not the symbols of Christ; instead, it is the ritual partaking of this festal meal with friends and family, regardless of status, that is the real memory of Jesus. It is precisely in this sense that the eating and drinking brings us to union with God."
It again illustrates the collaborative nature of the gospel. We are save as a body, as a people gathered together, as Zion.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

to say yes in face of fear

“I was reading an issue of MEN’S JOURNAL magazine. The lead article was “100 Things To Do Before You Die.” On the list were things like climb Mt. Everest, parachute from a plane, hand feed a shark, etcetera. I skimmed the other things they suggested should be on everyone’s list. I had no desire to do even one of them. Then I thought is there anything I *would* like to do before I die that I haven’t done yet? 
Hypothetically if someone is living fully, they’re doing what matters (or is important) to them whenever and however they can. There’s something dubious, even pathetic about having to make lists of tasks to do before you die so in doing them, you can be sure you will have really “lived.” The Japanese say “live every day as if your hair was on fire” and within realistic bounds, that sounds about right. Most of the time we know almost as soon as a situation arises whether we will regret not doing it afterwards or not if we say no. We also know most of the time that despite our many fearful, well behaved inner voices telling us not to do something, that we should ignore those voices and go ahead and do it. Because when we do and it works, it makes us bigger and life richer. If it fails, we hurt for a while but then heal and move on. 
You don’t need to climb Mt. Everest to have led a fulfilled life. You only have to have the courage, and usually it is only small courage, to say yes. Say yes and do something when your first, second and third instincts may be to say no because that frightens me." 
--Jonathan Carroll

Friday, February 8, 2013


Please make time to listen to this Radiowest program -- it is marvelous. An engaging conversation by some inspiring, thoughtful individuals.

It's all about asking "why?" (my favorite question).

Thursday, February 7, 2013

to speak or not to speak

I happened to read this article today, and while I feel that the author makes some good points, I need to take exception to her conclusion. I can't help but be reminded that it has always been by slow revelation, inspired by the intense and long-standing pressure of critical questions, that an answer is sought and revelation comes. If this is true of individuals, why not of the church as a whole? In which case, isn't it important for those of us with questions/concerns to voice them?

I certainly don't support disparaging church leadership, and I wouldn't want to participate in it, but I teach persuasive writing for a living, so I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of appropriate arguing as a way to advance understanding. I try to steer my students away from the idea that an argument is a fight or debate. Instead, I encourage them to see argument as process and a product-- as the development of a stance as well as the result (of inquiry, research, and truth-seeking discussion). In fact, in its very essence, an argument is an opportunity for exploration and exchange -- for the broadening of perspectives by all those who are involved.* With this definition, isn't it possible that we can respectfully disagree and question our leaders? Especially since "the assertion that revelation is either totally true or totally untrue is still a false dichotomy: We simply do not believe, as Mormons, that we must accept all scripture and prophetic teaching as equally inspired, and we have no doctrine of prophetic infallibility" (England).

It is because of questions, concerns, and doubts that we can learn to rely on personal revelation -- to search out and know for ourselves.
 The things of God are of deep import and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind O man if thou wilt lead a soul into salvation must search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God. (TPJS, 137)
If as a people we are encouraged to question -- too seek out truth and the deep things of God-- it seems entirely reasonable to me that this practice would then lead to questions concerning church policy and concerns with cultural traditions. And I don't think this is a bad thing; a difficult one perhaps but:
God apparently uses such a unique and uniquely troubling test because it is the only way to teach us something paradoxical but true and very important about the universe—that trust in our personal experiences with divinity must sometimes outweigh our rational morality. Obedience to the divine commands that come directly to us must sometimes supersede our understanding of earlier commands if we are ever to transcend the human limitations of even our best inherited culture and religion. We must learn, sometimes very painfully, to be open to continuous revelation. We must learn such a lesson partly because truth and history are too complex to be reduced to simple, irrevocable commandments—even from past prophets—like "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt always have only one spouse." Truth is ultimately "rational," but it is not always or immediately clear to our present reason (England). 
But I guess the question remains... while it is okay to disagree with church leadership, at what point do you have to bite your tongue and follow the advice here not to "air our grievances in public" and to instead "dissent like a general authority" by simply praying for change and not letting it affect church membership?

Is a letter like this too far? Or... is it just far enough? My friend Tracy thinks so:
In church last Sunday, the age-old comment as brought before the class. "Being critical of leadership is the first step to apostasy." Am I, by disagreeing, criticizing men/women called of God? Are we then, to accept the infallibility of our mortal and flawed leaders? We are all men. We are all born to make errors. Is it not possible that one such error might be made by a man in a leadership position? 
The letter to President Dalton does not show scorn or anger. It shows that President Dalton may not have taken her comments into a deep enough consideration for peoples of the world of whom she has no knowledge of. It also calls her to consider another point of view, hoping to help her to understand the struggles and trials of other's experiences, experiences that she has clearly not experienced.

So I ask: Have you come to any place of reconciliation with this issue?

Here's what my brother said when I asked him:
As times change, so do cultural norms, expectations, understandings, etc. The church, as we know, is not immune to change. Policies, leaders, organization, and so forth change as well. But how can that be? Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever? How can his church not be the same yesterday, today and forever? I'm not going to say much about that here, however, it would do us good to remember (as Joseph Smith said) that in proving contraries, truth is made manifest. In examining and proving the apparent contradictions of an ever-changing church that belongs to a never-changing God, we find reconciliatory principles and truths.

Think about "disagreement" with church policy. 20 years ago, if you disagreed with something, there wasn't much you could do. You could talk to local leaders. You could write a letter to church HQ. You could try to persuade family and close friends to your point of view. But other than that, you didn't have many outlets for complaining about your disagreement (unless you were a published scholar, in which case there were likely established mediums for hosting these types of conversations). 
However, the advent of the internet has ushered in an entirely new era of democratized thought. Anyone can publish anything they want. They might spend 6 months researching their thoughts, or they might spend 6 seconds. The playing field is level. Who's to say which voice has more weight in an argument? It's a kind of mob rule. You can find whatever voice you want to listen to … "we have all gone astray, everyone to his own way"(Psalms 139).

I think this democratization brought about by the internet has led people to think that church is a democracy, which it's not. And I think we have to accept that. Sure there's room for suggestions and what not, but I would say most of the time you're the one that has to change, not the church.

It's like with that recent article about how much the church brings in in tithing and the members have no good documentation or reporting of what is being done with their money. Some people think there to be more transparency in how the church operates. What is happening with all this money? where is it going? isn't there some kind of "annual report" that will tell members where the money is going? Without reporting and documenting, it's too easy to have corruption. People laundering money, giving favors to others, etc. So, makes sense to have proper reporting right? But then again, that's not what tithing is about. It's not about giving your money to the church and then getting a report in return that informs you your tithing was used to feed a homeless person (which makes you feel good inside). It's about faith. It's about saying "here's my money Lord. I don't need to know what happens to it" because God doesn't need your money. He just wants to see if you'll pay it. What happens to it at that point doesn't matter. Paying tithing and seeing what happens with it is like making a charitable donation and getting a report back to see where and how your money was used. That's obviously not what tithing is for.

If everyone starts thinking they can say whatever they want whenever they want and are empowered by the publishing tools of the digital age, then I think that's a move towards anarchy and decentralized power, which the church is not founded on.

I think most of the time it's about biting your tongue. I'm probably one to be a lot more submissive about the actions of church. Actions and policies of the church cause me to do a lot of reconciliation with the gospel and our implementation of it here on earth.

If you believe in "appropriate arguing as a way to advance understanding" that's fine. If you want to disagree with church leadership, that's fine too. But I think it's just too easy now-a-days for everyone to run to the internet where they think they'll be heard and only cause more confusion with misleading facts and petty arguments that everyone will see.

At what point can you speak your mind and at what point do you bite your tongue? Only you can know that. And it's most likely that you'll choose one or the other and find out later if you made the right choice or not. Hopefully, at that point, you'll repent and do better next time. That's how we learn right? **
I think this is a great perspective -- especially the idea of biting your tongue as a choice of faith in the Lord and His church AND speaking out when you feel you must.

I believe that obedience and self-sacrfice -- two of the most basic principles of the gospel -- at times require that we reign in our ego, our personal integrity, and what I think I "know" and just obey. So, how do you learn to draw the line between trusting your experience with divinity which leads you to be disagree and also being obedient? It's a contradiction, so I know there's got to be something deeper to be learned through it...

So I asked more people, including my friend Marlee:
I don't mean to be a politician about this but I agree with both sides. FOR ME I don't know that there is a point where I bite my tongue and only pray for change, or a set point where it is requisite for someone to publicly dissent. It all depends, and the rule I WOULD set for myself would be to follow the spirit. If you twisted my arm and forced me to set a point when I felt you should ALWAYS publicly dissent it would be when someone is preaching false doctrine. A Sunday School teacher, a Bishop. We should take ownership of our faith, know the doctrine, distinguish it from culture and tradition, and when leadership strays from established church doctrine they should be stopped.

That being said I want to say why I LOVE what Bonnie Blythe said is that she redirects people to the source of all truth and revelation; God. Too often when people see a need for change in the church they go public, maybe they want to change the minds of fellow church members, or maybe church leaders. As if the members were at the head of the church, as if the leaders were at the head of the church. Not that there isn't a place for that, those changes are part of the process. But more concerned with change being affected, I'm concerned with the fate of individuals who don't air their grievances with the one person who actually IS at the head of the church. The one person who cares most about them and their concerns. The one person who has REAL power to affect change in HIS church. They fail to take issue with him and at best the miss an opportunity for relationship with Deity that could lead them to greater faith and miracles, at worst their faith fails them in the face of so much contradiction and opposition and they remove themselves from the spiritual safety God provides for his children within his church.

Change is less likely to come if those who see a need for it, leave because they don't have the faith to first ask for it and then patiently wait for it. 
Whatever the case may be personal relationship with God is paramount, and that's what prayer is for.
I think she is spot on in saying both are right -- that's what makes this such a challenging paradox and why I think just getting different viewpoints/feelings on both actually makes the best kind of "answer" to this balancing act. We can learn from each other  and each decide for ourselves how we will face each individual instance of speaking up...or not.

I guess for me, it comes down to what I have experienced and how it has give shape to my testimony on different concepts. For many issues I am willing to bow out when I don't fully understand them or lack experience in an effort to understand them. I will trust the church/my leaders with the knowledge that God will not fault me for my obedience to His servants when the truth isn't clear. Besides, if I haven't felt guided by the spirit in any particular direction, who am I to say I know the answer better than those who have stewardship over me? However, if it is an issue I have prayerfully studied and meditated on -- and have received personal revelation pointing me somewhere -- and the occasion arises when I can defend or clarify this for someone else, then this is the time I feel validated in speaking out. Though, I must admit, I do need to pause more often to prayerfully ask if this is the case before jumping into things headfirst.

With all that in mind, I'd like to end with how my dad responded: 
 I don't know that one will ever come to a unchanging position on this matter. Mine seems to be always changing a little as I learn and understand more. Certainly patience and faith are the lights we must use to probe into the darkness. I see nothing wrong with having a dialogue on subjects of theology outside the "revealed" word. That helps us understand and opens our minds to new possibilities. To simply fold our hands and wait, is not reasonable for us or to God. After all, we all should be searching for the "further light and knowledge he has promised to send". That said, public displays of rancor and criticism of church leaders seem never to be appropriate. As Paul said, 'Be kindly affectioned one to another.... as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." (Romans 12:10,18).
I think the idea of approaching God, instead of man, is also entirely reasonable. I wish more of us would do that, on all subjects. I will give you an example. During the preparations for the Olympics in Utah, Pres. Hinckley announced that the Church would take certain actions in support of the festivities. I don't remember what it was, but I didn't think it appropriate. I thought, "Well, I can send a letter to the Brethren (which probably would not make much difference) or I can just accept it as a "Church" decision. Neither seemed satisfying. So, I decided to take it to the Lord, as he was the one in charge ultimately. I prayed to the the Lord and told him my concerns and left the matter with him. A couple days later, Pres. Hinckley announced that the Church would not proceed with its original intentions. Now, what is one to draw from this? Did my prayer make a difference? Well, you can draw your own conclusions. The Lord hears our prayers and answers them. More than ever, I realize now that we can go to him, that we have a direct line with the man in charge.

*Of course, for it to be effective argument, all parties have to listen carefully and try to understand the divergent views of others – in order to consider all points of view, even those with which they disagree (This includes being able to reconstruct the arguments of their opponents because they understand it so well and are able to then consider and frame their claims as a response to what others have said while remaining respectful, courteous, & open‐minded.)

**I want to highlight that I wrote back to him, asking about his statement: "I would say most of the time you're the one that has to change, not the church." I responded with: I agree with that in terms of a lot of things, your example of tithing being one… but what really got me thinking about this issue is things that have been happening lately with women's rights, along with my experiences with friends struggling to find a place in the church in light of their homosexuality. I don't necessarily want to tell the church what to do (I HAVE NO IDEA and I'm glad it isn't my responsibility to be totally honest) but I am concerned about people who feel that they can't fit in the church (even if it's due to cultural rather than doctrinal reasons) when the gospel (and therefor the church) is supposed to be for everyone. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The First Great Commandment

You really should listen to the whole thing... but if you don't have time, just listen to the last half. You won't regret it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

a finite god AND an infinite God

My roommate and I were having a discussion... er... argument, about the omniscience of God. I believe  (& she will have to correct me if I am wrong here?) that our argument came down do whether or not God knows what we are going to do or that he is able to predict it. Thinking back on it now I'm pretty sure we both actually agreed with each other on a lot of the things we thought we were disagreeing on because those two things are essentially the same (it all depends on your definition of "know" but that's a topic for another post). Anyways it led me to ponder more on the subject. This quote is where I landed (underlining by me for emphasis):
Joseph Smith's part in authoring the "Lectures on Faith" is still uncertain; they seem mainly the work of Sidney Rigdon, with significant input from Joseph,1 and, of course, as many readers have suspected, reflect a very early stage of Mormon doctrinal expression about God, one still heavily influenced by traditional Christian ideas and categories. For instance, God is described as a personage of Spirit, only Christ as a personage of tabernacle, and the Holy Ghost not as a personage at all but a kind of single unifying mind of both the father and son. Those who teach from the "Lectures on Faith" have had to editorialize, to add footnotes and explanations, in order to make it conform to later orthodox Mormon thought, as, for instance, Joseph Fielding Smith does at the beginning of his book, Doctrines of Salvation. This problem was recognized in the inclination by Church authorities to revise the "Lectures on Faith" in the early 1900s, or at least to add a footnote, and then the decision instead to exclude them from the Doctrine and Covenants in 1921.2  However, Joseph Smith never repudiated them. It is likely that, had they been written later as his understanding developed, he too would have qualified or explained some of the terms used there, but I think he saw no inherent contradiction between them and his later understanding of God. He wrote, shortly before his death, "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest,"3 and certainly could see the contraries in his understanding of God: that God could rightly, as he is in the scriptures, be described as having all knowledge and power, sufficient to provide us salvation in our sphere of existence (and thus being infinite) but could also be described in the terms revealed to Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants as unable to create the universe and its laws, or us, out of nothing or to force us to be good (and thus "finite"). --Eugene England

What I gather from this is that we were BOTH right. God is omniscient -- all knowing/all perceiving/etc. but He also knows the hearts and minds of His children and is a great predictor of behavior. There is not contradiction in this -- and by proving our "contraries" I expect we will find great truth.

(I'll keep you posted.)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"By proving contraries, truth is made manifest"

If you've ready any of my other posts responding to/commenting on the writing of Eugene England then you know I love his thoughts on contraries.

Hence the quote from the prophet Joseph Smith that is serving as the title for this post:
By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.
England explains this, writing that "tragic paradox lies at the heart of things and that life and salvation, truth and progress, come only through anxiously, bravely grappling with those paradoxes, both in action and in thought" (Dialogues with Myself ix).

T. Givens gives an example of this, explaining in The God Who Weeps, that obedience to God “is our way of displaying trust in His counsel, and faithfulness effects the gradual change of heart and mind that moves us forward. The lovely paradox of willing compliance with what an ancient prophet called “The great plan of happiness,” is that conformity to law breeds both freedom and individualism. We may think a leaping child, in the euphoria of his imagination, enjoys unfettered freedom when he tells us he is going to land on the moon. But the rocket scientist hard at work in the laboratory, enmeshed in formulae and equations she has labored to master, and slaving away in perfect conformity with the laws of physics, is the one with true freedom: for she will land on the moon; the boy will not (Kindle Edition Loc 1850).

It is only by embracing the paradox of freedom through conformity that true liberations comes. It is only by engaging in the cognitive dissonance of contraries and continuing to choose faith that progress is made.

This is in part because it is through fundamental opposition that this earth life makes salvation possible. We are part of a world that is "full of opposites, paradoxes, incompletions -- all of which cause pain and loss as well as make passible struggle and growth and joy" (Dialogues with Myself x).

It is also because we must experience the darkness in order to independently and completely choose the light. My roommate quoted this one day while we were discussing something along these lines:
"God works by contraries so that a man feels himself to be lost in the very moment when he is on the point of being saved." --From Martin Luther's 95 theses.
We grow through contraries, but we are also empowered through them. When we feel the most lost, confused, conflicted, and all but overcome by the incongruity of things before us AND THEN STILL choose faith and obedience, we reach a kind of transcendence -- a special communion with the Lord as we are made holy -- and find ourselves choosing to conform to the very conditions that empower us.
"And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same" (D&C 88:34)
The keeping of law makes us holy, it sanctifies us -- and the Lord has promised:
"Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power" (D&C 43:16)
Every moment of paradox and contradiction is an opportunity to yield our hearts to God (Helaman 3:33-35). They are the setting in which we choose time and time again to maintain our integrity in a context where the options before us cannot be easily and rationally resolved.

To go back to something I've quoted on this blog before:
I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites and our ego. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance (T. Givens qtd. from an article by Boyd Peterson).
Something to remember. By proving myself in the contraries of my life, the truth of who I am and what I love is made manifest.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

new year resolution: don't flinch

"You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. 
Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. 
You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. 
If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. 
Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference. 
Your new self is not like that. Your new self is the Great Chicago Fire—overwhelming, overpowering, and destroying everything that isn’t necessary."