Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If Only the Church Would Change

It seems that many people, both members and not, believe the LDS Church should change in order to fit some agenda they have. Whether it is admitting fault in the pre-1978 Priesthood Ban, spending more time with apologetics, changing the wording of temple covenants or giving women the priesthood, there is a long, tired list of changes people believe they should make. The prevailing thought seems to be that if only the Brethren who are called to run the Church understood or were wise/smart/savvy/up-to-date/enlightened/etc. enough, the Church would be different and better. Sometimes it feels like one of those mix-and-match books where you can choose the issue and a deprecating adjective to make a new complaint.

At any rate, I was thinking about this and trying to figure out the root of the problem. I don't think the problem is really the priesthood, the patriarchy, or any of the things people like to complain about. I think the problem goes much deeper. Even were the prophet to snap his fingers and change everything tomorrow, there would still be something for such people to complain about. If homosexuality was accepted, it would be transgender. If women were given the priesthood, it would be that they don't have enough roles in it. A solution cannot be found by the Brethren conforming to popular opinion.

Furthermore, most of these things don't bother me, at least not to the degree they bother some. I wasn't really sure why this is. Some of them used to bother me much more than they do now, but although I never really tried to change my feelings on the issues, my feelings changed on their own. What was the difference?

As I thought about these things this morning, I felt that the root cause of much of these problems is a lack of true faith in God. (Let me establish, I'm making no judgment on individuals with issues, nor am I trying to disparage those issues, I'm just trying to examine the problem in general.) I don't mean a lack of belief that He exists, but a lack of true faith.

I have learned a lot about faith lately. It isn't about believing, it is about trusting. It is about taking that step into the chasm, even though you can't see the bridge under your feet. It is about falling into the chasm and being okay with that, because you know who you are and who God is. It's about standing in front of a furnace hot enough to boil bone and saying, "I know that God can save me, but if He does not, still I will follow Him." It is about saying "I am hurt that women don't have the priesthood. I hope that some day they will have the chance to lead in the Church the way men do, but even if they are eternally less than men in this way, still I will follow God. Still will I submit to His will as now understood through His prophets. Still will I obey." It is about saying "I think the Church was wrong to withhold the priesthood from blacks in the past. But I may be wrong. Either way, my opinion is not important, and my needs are in the hands of my Redeemer to do with as He will."

It is about taking your pain and letting it go.

A lady I know wanted more than anything to have an eternal family. She gave up her dream career, much of her pride and comfort for this dream. All of her effort went into attaining this goal. While pregnant with her fifth child, her husband, well regarded in the church, had an affair. After the baby's birth, he divorced her and moved his new girlfriend into the house they had lived in. Her dream was shattered. And yet, with her righteous desires lying crumbled around her feet, with five children to raise on her own and no hope of ever marrying again, she let go of that dream, turned it over to the Father's hands and simply served her children and the other children of God. I don't know if she is happy, or if she will ever gain her dream in this life. There is no solid doctrine promising her an eternal marriage after her death. But, she has done her best to follow the will of the Lord, and she trusts Him to take care of her needs.

"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, "What shall we eat?" or, "What shall we drink?" or, "Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" [Or "How will I be healed?" or "When will I be equal?"] . . . . For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

I am not free from this problem. Because of my recent life challenges, I have wasted too much time wishing things would change to conform to my dreams and thoughts of how things should be. I have "labored much in the Spirit" that I would be able to accept the dissolution of my righteous desires, and learn to let go of my needs and learn true charity for others. I am no different from those who long for the Church to conform to their desires. But I think perhaps the reason neither my life nor the Church will change to fit opinion, or do many of the things wanted of them is because God's people must be a people of faith. If everything in the Church (or my life) was perfect, there would be no reason for faith. And if the Brethren were smart/savvy/inspired/etc. enough to do what was wanted of them, there would be no room for humility and patience . . . or for charity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Believe in Revelation

Articles of Faith #9
[I] believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and [I] believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

I have lived much of my life immersed in the concept of revelation, both personal and prophetic. It has become as much a part of my life as breathing, but when looked at objectively it is quite an extraordinary concept. It is amazing and humbling to me to realize that God stands ready to remove ANY and ALL ignorance from my mind, should I ask. I find the process of revelation even more fascinating when reading about Church history. I think it is one of the most misunderstood core principles of the Church.

Many people think that revelation is about Truth, but it isn't—at least, not primarily. I believe revelation is primarily about receiving direction from God. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of Truth, but sometimes it comes in a form that few humans recognize as truth. In our limited, childish perspectives that do not benefit from any memory of our lives before and possess only meager understanding of eternal principles, we like to define Truth in our own image, and fail to remain open to God's revelations. We limit Him to an oversimplified "yes" or "no" by our very unwillingness to acknowledge His superior understanding. Rather than being willing to follow His guidance, whatever it is, we try to force Him into our superstructure of existing knowledge. I think this limits our spiritual gift of revelation.

Revelation is about learning, and can only exist where there is ignorance. If any one person understood all there was to know, there would be no need for God's guidance. The revelation of truth and knowledge would be moot in a place where they already exist. Therefore, revelation is an eternal principle applied only to a mortal sphere. In order to receive revelation from God, one must realize that one is ignorant. If a person has already decided that they understand, that they know the facts of the circumstance, they have closed the door on revelation. In order to remain open to revelation, a person must never say "now I know all" even after an answer is received from God.

To briefly share an example of this in my own life, I had a powerful spiritual prompting to serve a mission when I was fourteen years old. When I was twenty, I received an even more powerful spiritual prompting that I was not to serve a mission. I was twenty-two when I again received revelation on this matter: that it was up to me to serve or not, but to make up my mind myself. Feeling the desire to serve, I did, and was irrevocably changed and infinitely blessed. Was I ever wrong in my promptings? I don't think I was, though I received a vastly different answer each time. In a sense, I was never given a conflicting answer because the person who was answered was a different person each time.

Revelation is about imperfection. We find it difficult to realize that in an imperfect world, God may have to guide us down imperfect paths to achieve His perfect ends. Was it a perfect answer to kill Laban in order to save the souls of the children of Lehi? Was it a perfect answer to eradicate the heathen nations which occupied Israel? Is it a perfect answer to sacrifice His Most Holy Son to our sin?

Not in the sense that we would like to believe in perfection: that everything is fair and just and merciful, also. Sometimes mercy requires injustice, and sometimes God's perfect work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man requires Him to work within our flawed framework. In fact, I would suggest that only by working within a flawed framework can those perfect ends be manifest.

THAT is why we believe in continuing revelation; because we acknowledge that God's commandments may differ when given in different, mortal circumstances. At some time, He may say "kill" when at another, He may ask us to die. At one time, He may ask us to practice one law and revoke it at another time.

To truly believe in continuing revelation, I feel that one must also believe that past "mistakes" in the divine direction of His church (and, I might add, in the divine direction of individual lives) are not mistakes at all, but are simply other commandments for other times and circumstances. And, to acknowledge a need for revelation, one must acknowledge one's own ignorance. After all, revelation cannot exist in the same place as perfect understanding. But without perfect understanding, we have only faith and trust that God will do all He has promised, and that He is indeed directing the growth of His imperfect church members towards His perfect ends.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seeking the Pearl

Matthew 13: 45-46
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

I have such a pearl. I was young when I found it, and though it has taken me years (and is still taking me years in many respects), I am selling all I have to attain it. But I never suspected that in seeking after this pearl, I would also have to in some respects, sell my efforts to attain it.

When I first promised to sell all I had for this pearl, I didn't think I had much. Since then, I have gained many things that are precious to me. Some of these treasures turn out to be poisons that I have to cleanse out of my heart—or allow to be cleansed. Some of these things are good, holy, praiseworthy things&mdash things which are nearly if not equally precious as that which I am selling them for. But I have dedicated my heart, and there is no turning back now.

Is there any pearl you would give up everything for? Even if "all you have" is not enough to buy it?

Friday, December 12, 2008

When Spiritual Leaders Aren't

Due to some of the advice in my previous post, I thought it might be appropriate to follow up with a post I've been struggling with for some time. Again, I don't want to disparage or criticize anyone. At the same time, a failure to find appropriate and authoritative spiritual guidance when you need it most is not an uncommon situation. Especially in a Church where ecclesiastical leadership is untrained and uncompensated, and isn't even the primary concern of those who lead, it will come sooner or later that most members find themselves with no official spiritual leadership. What do you do when those who should spiritually lead do not? How do you cope with needing spiritual guidance and not finding it in those with the authority to help? Where do you turn for counsel?

First, I think it is important to understand why the Lord might have instituted a lay priesthood. There doesn't seem to be much clear commentary on the matter, so my thoughts are mostly conjecture based on what I understand of the gospel and priesthood. I feel that, as it is God's will that we should make good choices and come back to Him, the opportunity for all men to participate in priesthood leadership gives them the chance to learn what leadership is. Rather than restricting that learning experience to those who choose it by making it their vocation, He asks that men learn to balance Church, family and personal life, learning to put service as a priority and learning empathy for those they lead. Additionally, they can taste a small measure of divinity when they stand as if they were Christ, intercessors in some way between us and God. In short, it is a chance for them to learn to judge wisely and exercise charity. This principle must work with agency to create some less-than-ideal circumstances. Sometimes, other children of God have to suffer because of the learning process. This doesn't make such leaders bad or wrong, just imperfect. It also gives those without good leadership a chance to learn forgiveness and patience for imperfection.

This is all well and good in thought, but what happens when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and you desperately need spiritual guidance which just isn't there? What happens when you find yourself struggling under the influence of Satan's power and there are no home teachers, no bishopric member, no father or husband or brother to turn to? (As a side note, this may seem to be a uniquely female conundrum, but I'd like to point out that men must also turn to another for spiritual leadership. They cannot do it for themselves.)

There, the beauty of the Gospel truly manifests. Although the Lord has set up the Priesthood to bless the children of Adam and Eve, He has not left us comfortless when we cannot turn to another mortal for such help. He has blessed us with the Spirit of God. This Spirit can not only comfort us, but can call forth His servants to help in times of trouble when one of His children cannot ask for it. I have experienced this in my life multiple times, particularly in the last year or so. Disciples of Christ, thankfully in tune with the Spirit, have come to me and ministered to me when I didn't know how to ask for help. (Many of whom read this blog.) Angels, both mortal and immortal, have surrounded me to bear me up.

However, even in those dark times when I haven't been able to feel or recognize heavenly help, I have been able to cling to the knowledge of my redemption. Gaining a testimony of Christ's Atonement has, at times, been the only lifeline I had. Despite the structure of God's Priesthood, the line between each individual and divinity is unbroken and unbreakable by any other. A lack of mortal spiritual leadership when needed is sometimes only an opportunity to deepen the spiritual bonds between yourself and God. When there is no one else, He is always there.

So, where do you turn for counsel? To Jesus Christ, whose life and death was dedicated to our welfare, who knows us better and more deeply than we know ourselves, whose faithfulness was stronger than Death and Hell. When our faithfulness to Him becomes just as strong, we will be able to ensure that when another of God's children needs spiritual guidance, we will be there, ready to answer the call of the Spirit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finding Worship in LDS Services

I was reading Andrew Ainsworth's post on Mormon Matters (worth a read, for certain) and began to feel as if it were indirectly hitting on something that currently lies on my heart. I am addressing this subject because I want help to overcome it, not because I want to vent or complain or disparage anyone involved. I feel it must be a problem in my own heart which I want to resolve, if possible.

I have attended many LDS wards in my life, some of which were vibrantly spiritual. As much as some people ridicule singles' wards (and I had one or two not far from the stereotype) some of my most deeply spiritual in-church experiences were when I was single. In my singles' wards and from what I remember of the many wards I grew up in, Sacrament Meeting would often have a topic like "faith" or "repentance" which was discussed in all the talks that day. Sometimes there would be a combination, such as baptism and the Holy Ghost, but there was almost always some spiritual topic which was addressed.

My current ward is full of good, well-meaning people, and I don't want to disparage them. I have found myself, however, literally starving for spiritual nourishment at Church. I have felt the Spirit through personal scripture study, and when studying to write on topics, or when speaking with individuals or pondering gospel topics. I have occasionally felt the Spirit in Sunday School. I don't think I have felt the Spirit in Sacrament Meeting since coming to this area. Sacrament Meeting talks are composed of 1) Recaps of some activity or project done in the ward, like Girls' Camp, Scout Camp or Daily Dose efforts; 2) Family introductions from new move-ins, who are mostly the children of some established ward family and therefore grew up in the ward; or 3) Young Women's/Primary/thematic "programs" of some sort, like Christmas or Easter, in which stories or articles are read out loud by the speakers.

While I can certainly understand that the Spirit can be present in such sacrament presentations, and I have at times felt the Spirit in my life during such things, I find myself unable to find the communal spiritual nourishment I crave. I have tried. I have fasted and prayed, and pondered and focused, and all the things that one does to try to feel the Spirit. I have heard ward members testify of the Spirit felt in the meetings, which I simply have not felt.

Often, Sunday School and Relief Society meetings are even drier. The teachers generally focus on events and not on the ramifications of those events. History, "weren't their lives hard?", and commonly-recited answers to carefully-pre-posed questions tend to be the flavor. I have tried to comment, to share how things have affected me, to help the teacher bring the Spirit into the lesson, but my efforts, despite being appreciated by some, are largely perceived as hostile or reactionary, and have caused me some amount of trouble, so I have ceased them.

In short, I long for and desire to participate in the community of Christ, but find myself an outsider, and no part of the community I am in. At the same time, my experiences in life are teaching me that becoming frustrated with the lack of spiritual nourishment does nothing to help bring the Spirit to fruition. It seems that the choice is to simply not expect spiritual nourishment in Church, and pray for the Spirit to come somehow and in some way to my life.

Have any of you struggled with this? What have you done to bring the Spirit back into Sunday services?

I am beginning to suspect that part of the problem is my traditional view of worship services. I tend to think of Sunday church as a time to discuss gospel principles, learn from the discussion, and try to apply them to my life during the week. While this can be right, it isn't working for me right now. So, I sat down and tried to really think about how to worship God. He said His work is to "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." To me, it seems that the best way to worship Him would be to help Him in His work. Therefore, I think I am going to try to get to know people in my ward by simply listening to comments, talks, and teaching style, since I no longer comment. I need to stop expecting to be nourished by the Spirit in church, and just listen to other people for a time. Perhaps I can sift through the everyday answers to find someone who needs me. Perhaps I can reach out to just one person.

Perhaps then, I can worship God in His Church even without the slightest grain of gospel discussion or Spiritual nourishment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Misplaced Assumptions in the Marriage Debate . . .

. . . which should be set aside, if gay marriage advocates truly wish to try to change the minds of those who are traditional marriage advocates.

1. An individual has the inherent right to marry whomever they want.
I simply don't believe it. I don't think people should be allowed to marry close family members, for example. Even though there is no rational reason for feeling this way, I just do. Gay marriage advocates would be better off trying to explain why the right to marry the same gender ought to be allowed, beyond a simple "cause we want to".

2. Genetic traits excuse behavior.
There is a plethora of genetic traits that lead to unacceptable behavior. Schizophrenia and other mental disorders come to mind. Advocates would be better off getting away from an appeal of "I can't help it," to explaining why the behavior should be normalized.

3. Animal behavior is a good role model for human behavior.
Animals do a lot of things I don't think humans should do, ranging from eating their own young to rape, not to mention sniffing behinds as a greeting. I would advise refraining from comparing oneself to an animal in this sense. It isn't really a flattering analogy.

4. That any minority desire must be allowed or it is majority tyranny.
Again, I don't believe it. There is a minority of people who believe they have the right to child pornography. That doesn't mean it should be allowed. Whether people like it or not, democracy is by definition a tyranny of the majority. Better that than tyranny of one, such as an absolute monarchy. Rather than whining that it isn't fair, advocates really ought to demonstrate why the minority desire is beneficial to society.

To be fair, some advocates have done this. I'm not writing this post for them, I'm writing it to those who believe that it is worth repeating something loudly and often enough to drown out anything anyone else might say, whether or not it matters.

What I find compelling is a reasonable, measured, calm exposition of why this is beneficial to me, personally, and to society as a whole. Calling me a bigot and hate-filled really doesn't accomplish the goal, unless the goal is to cement me more firmly in my opinion.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Gift to be Healed

I'm not a glass-half-full kind of person. Oh, I try to be optimistic and give people the benefit of the doubt, and I've made great strides in my personality as I get older. But underneath it all, I'm afraid I'm just a great big Grinch. As the Christmas season winds on (isn't it over yet?) and the New Year begins to sniff around the yard, I find myself wishing I were far more charitable than I am. When I'm sick or tired, I find it especially difficult to be the cheerful, uplifting person I want to be. And I find myself getting annoyed with people who refuse to give ME any leeway for mistakes. As hard as I try to be forgiving, I still find seeds of resentment, the urge to just lash out at someone for no good reason but to vent. If there is a sin I would give away above all others, this would be it.

Ray's post last month which I've mentioned once before, about casting your burdens at the feet of Jesus, has resonated deeply with me. It continues to haunt my mind. I find that the more I think about it, the more clear it comes to me that as much as I berate myself over my unkindness and resentment and all the myriad other "besetting sins" I possess, my pride which drives me to perfection is the one I most need to overcome.

I am of good German stock. One of the things I have always admired most about the German people is that when the unpleasant needs to be done, they dig in and get it done. Few other people have the sheer earthen tenacity of the Germans. If there is a burden to lift, an obstacle to surmount, they will do it or die trying. Wound in my persona is this underlying belief that if I only work hard enough, I can overcome anything. I have been shown this last year or so that this simply isn't true. There are things I cannot overcome, things I cannot do and obstacles I cannot climb over. My imperfection is one such obstacle.

My husband and I watched a film called Penelope recently. Although this film wasn't stellar in execution, it had an underlying story, a twist on the classic Beauty and the Beast tale which struck me to the core. In it, the beast Penelope only has to accept herself to break the spell. No one else can do it for her. Once she does this, the curse lifts and she is cured. Only by letting go and learning to accept myself in my imperfections and laying those imperfections at the feet of my Savior can I lift the curse that is keeping me from being all my heart most desires. It is not my ugliness which mars me, it is my refusal to let that ugliness be what it is. I came here to earth to experience imperfection. I can never believe that a perfect being can forgive me for that imperfection so long as I cannot forgive myself. If I can't let go of my sins, He won't wrest them from me. Part of asking for forgiveness is recognizing that forgiveness is possible.

Demanding perfection of myself is pride. It is not for me to make me perfect, it is for the Lord. I am only to serve Him and worship Him, and if part of that service is to try to give people the benefit of the doubt and lift them up when they are down, than I will do so. But I will not do so out of a need to be perfect, I will do so as an expression of my devotion to my Savior.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Believe in the Holy Scriptures

Articles of Faith #8
[I] believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; [I] also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

I remember one of the first personal spiritual experiences I had with the Book of Mormon. I went to my mom with a question, and she told me to search the scriptures for an answer. I vividly remember going to my room, praying for an answer, and then just opening and reading. I don't now remember the question, but I remember it was answered. I could not have been more than seven or eight years old.

My most memorable experience with the Bible came years later. I was a teenager taking seminary and resolved to read the entirety of the Bible. It took me two years, but I did it. I even read the "begats" and Isaiah. In fact, Isaiah has become one of my favorite books of scripture. There is so much to be learned in his poetry. I prayed to know if the Bible was the word of God, as I did with the Book of Mormon, and received a similar witness.

There are many who rail against the Book of Mormon and its origins, and many who doubt the historicity of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Few other books have been picked apart and analyzed the way these two books of scripture have been. I know that these books are here by the power of God. I don't know this because I have verified their historicity, or even just because I have prayed for a confirmation of their spiritual truths, but because I have put it to the test. If I could describe all the times scripture has blessed me and aided me, there would not be a book large enough to contain it.

To me, they are true in a way that has nothing to do with their historicity. History is useful to put things into perspective, but it is largely irrelevant to the purpose of either book. They are true, not because they are free from bias or perspective, not because they document the lives of people long gone, but because they document my life. Every time I have struggled, every incandescent moment I have experienced in the Spirit, is echoed somewhere in those books. Whenever I am enlightened, it is either in conjunction with scripture study or confirmed by it. Nearly every time I am calmed by the Spirit, it is done using the words of the prophets in these books.

I believe every mystery of God can be found in studying the written and current prophetically-spoken scriptures. Other material may try to clarify, others may try to speculate or enhance the words of God, but nothing I have read or heard has said it more succinctly, more beautifully and more accurately than said in ancient and living scripture.

If you have any question, any trouble weighing on your heart, take it to the scriptures. The words of Christ—the words of the prophets—will heal you.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Honest Questions

This song has always been a comfort and a strength to me, but in light of the anger directed against my Church lately, and all of the hurt and pain on both sides, it has gained more meaning for me. I believe it holds the key to healing, but I can understand there might be some disagreement on that subject. You can listen to it here, though it is only a fan video, so don't pay too much attention to that.

Can you see
the honest questions in my heart this hour,
opening like a flower
to the rain?
And do you know the silent sorrows of a
never-ending journey through the pain?

Do you see a brighter day for me?
Another day,
a day . . . .
Do you wonder what's in store for me,
the cure for me, the way?
Oh, look down and see the tears I've cried,
the lives I've lived,
the deaths I've died.
Would you die them too,
and all for me? You say:

"I will pour the water down upon a thirsty barren land.
And streams will flow
from the dust of your bruised and broken soul.
And you will grow like the grass
upon the fertile plains of Asia, by the streams
of living water you will grow.
Oh . . . you will grow."

Do you know
the story from the start?
And do you know me,
like you've always told me?
Do you see the whispers in my heart against your kindness,
my eternal blindness?
Do you see . . .

Do you see a brighter day for me?
Another day,
a day . . . .
Do you wonder what's in store for me,
the cure for me, the way?
Oh, look down and see the tears I've cried,
the lives I've lived,
the deaths I've died.
But you die them too,
and all for me. You say:

"I will pour the water down upon a thirsty barren land,
And streams will flow
From the dust of your bruised and broken soul.
And you will grow like the grass
Upon the fertile plains of Asia, by the streams
Of living water you will grow.
Oh, I will pour the water down upon the thirsty barren land,
And streams will flow
From the dust of your bruised and broken soul.
And you will grow like the grass
Upon the fertile plains of Asia, by the streams
Of living water you will grow.
Oh, you will grow."

From Daniel Bedingfield, "Honest Questions"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Discussion of Hate

Thanks to Dennis at Thinking in a Marrow Bone for this interesting post. Please comment there, if you have thoughts on the subject.

Michelle Obama and the Price of a Loss of Religion

As I listened to NPR this morning, waiting for the gym to open, I heard an interesting opinion on Michelle Obama. (I tried to find a link, but I don't think it is yet posted. If anyone knows where it is, please let me know.) The woman speaking, Rachel, opined that the First Lady incumbent had a powerful image that was being made "more comfortable" for the American people. She claimed that America was uncomfortable with powerful women, and that is why Michelle Obama was focusing on work/life balance for women, military wives and other similar agendas. Claiming she was dumbed down for the American people to swallow her better, she said that Michelle was going to be the same First Lady we've had in the past. Her basis for this was that there was a lot of hype about Senator Obama and his children adjusting to the change, but little was said about Michelle having to "give up her identity" and her own paycheck and the adjustment necessary for that.

The discussion got me thinking about the view of motherhood. It was obvious from the discussion that Michelle was losing something by going from a powerful lawyer to a mom and First Lady. It was clear that the speaker considered a woman's value to be tied up in what she did and in having an identity independent from her husband. It is this sort of attitude I believe was criticized when the First Presidency issued the Proclamation on the Family.

Society has increasingly begun to view marriage and family as a mix between a burden and a luxury. Those who marry do so with a feeling of what they will get out of the arrangement. If you listen to the Proposition 8 riots and rhetoric, to much of the feminist rhetoric, and even to television and radio, you will hear marriage almost exclusively discussed in terms of benefits to individuals. In divorces, one spouse didn't "meet the needs" of the other, a couple "fell out of love" or tried to control each other. In discussing gay marriage, it is seen almost exclusively as a right with government benefits.

All of these viewpoints are poisonous. Marriage is not a contract with benefits on either side; it is a commitment. When two people marry, they commit to each other and to their future children. They dedicate all of their resources and time to the betterment of that new family unit. A person agrees to put the welfare of that tiny unit of society above their own individual welfare. It is the arrangement which best allows us to become like Christ, because we mimic His actions when He put the welfare of the world above His own.

Although many argue that atheism—a loss of belief in God—does nothing to remove morality—an understanding of the need to care and provide for another's needs—I think the root of all these problems in society is a loss of belief in God. For this purpose, it does not matter which belief in God you have as long as your belief includes a need to submit the self. Religions which focus on self-attainment or self-perfection miss the mark. I want to note here that Mormonism in practice often falls into this category, focusing far too much on self-purification and too little on selflessness. Our hands are not clean of this sin.

Marriage is not a social arrangement to benefit the self, it is a social arrangement to better the whole. Religion teaches this concept in a way that simple morality cannot. The Christian religion, since that is the one I know best, especially demonstrates this. If God, the greatest of all beings, was willing to lay down His life for an imperfect world, we ought to be able to lay down our lives, whether by living them or by losing them, for our imperfect spouses. I, for one, admire Michelle Obama for being willing to dedicate herself to her marriage and to her husband's glory, just as I admire husbands willing to work in a drudgery job every day to provide for their family, or vice versa. Marriage is a series of submissions from both sides of the equation. That is what the Proclamation on the Family has to teach us. That is what Christ taught us with His life. That is the value of religion and the price we all pay when it is mocked and trampled.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Maverick of the (Sanity) Ward

A very interesting conversation over at BCC hits close to home for me. They are asking members to be a little kinder to those who do not agree with them, a little more thoughtful of the "outliers". While I completely agree that a little more kindness, a little larger place would be nice, I feel I have something to say from the bottom of the pile, so to speak.

I am currently absolutely furious about a situation in my ward as it concerns my family. I won't say I'm rationally furious, as it does not come from rational thought but from a wellspring of pent up frustration and loneliness. Most of my fury is focused around a man who happens to be the current leader of the ward. In complete honesty, I can say that I admire him. He is a good, plainspoken man. He has a very homey way about him completely free of guile and manipulation. As a person, I like him very much. Unfortunately, I don't think he understands much about me or my life. This isn't for lack of trying to communicate on either side of the issue, but it is there, all the same. Hence, the frustration.

In other words, I am the recipient of some very biased attitudes. Much of it is my fault for being who I am, much is just the fallout from the situation.

But I want to say that, while I would appreciate (and HAVE appreciated) little acts of kindness from members in my ward, I can recognize how much I have grown from the struggle. Because the people around me are imperfect, I can get a little more perfect. If everyone around me was perfectly kind and accepting of whatever I did, I would have no reason to change, no reason to examine myself and my actions. I have been able to weigh my lifestyle, my pride and comfort against my faith, and decide what is truly important to me.

Therefore, I recognize my fury as pointless and temporary, and can appreciate the chance to learn and grow, even if I don't like it, and even if it breaks my heart.

After all, it is a broken heart which God asks of me.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Believe in Gifts of the Spirit

Articles of Faith #7
[I] believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.

It has taken me a very long time to feel out what I should write about this Article of Faith. We members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find ourselves in a rather odd position. Despite the strong influence of spiritual gifts in the fledgling years of the Church, we do not speak much of them now. Although they will be alluded to in General Conference talks, it is mostly to say that they still exist, though we do not hear much of them. Otherwise, they are discussed in terms of developing talents. I often find such discussions of talents somewhat condescending, in that they seem to rob spiritual gifts of their power and relegate them to a simple ability to smile at people, or play the piano.

While other talents are certainly gifts from God, and should be used to serve Him, they are different, in my mind, to spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts include the flashy manifestations of prophecy and healing as well as the more subtle gifts of discernment, understanding and insight. My family history is sprinkled with a strong legacy of spiritual gifts, though I have not witnessed many overt manifestations in my family members. Like the tendency to diminish spiritual gifts, there is also a strong tendency to either dismiss them as pagan, mystical or downright manifestations of Satan’s power, or to speak of them with hushed and vaguely frightened voices.

It can be difficult to parse the difference in spiritual manifestations, and in our world of science and logic, it is embarrassing to speak of them. Those who claim to have had encounters with spirits, or who claim “paranormal” abilities are seen (often rightfully) as frauds. I also believe this viewpoint is engendered by the Opposition to rob us of some of our most powerful tools. It is difficult to walk the line, and must be done with a certain measure of trepidation. It is easy for Satan to entice us into thinking we are somehow more special than others, into believing we are better because we have or have witnessed these abilities. The gifts of God, however, are never done in pride or a sense of superiority. They never require money or deference to be granted, and this is what I have found to be the most effective tool in discernment.

If you hear of some spiritual gift experience, there are a few things I have found to help differentiate what comes from God and what does not, although Satan has become adept in confusing the issue.

Before I go into explaining what I mean, I want to say that I will not be sharing any of my own experiences. Although that is primarily what I am trying to do with this series on the Articles of Faith, I feel that this is neither the medium nor the time for it in this case. What I will do is try to illustrate what I have found useful in dealing with claims of spiritual gifts.

When you hear or read of a spiritual gift experience, first ask yourself if the Spirit is present. In my experience, the Spirit will not bring a sense of euphoria or of uniqueness. Rather, it brings a sense of smallness, of total humility before God. It will not inspire you to tell everyone, rather you will feel as if you hold a special highly breakable pearl which must be protected and shown only rarely. The experience will not likely be a highly advertised one, it will be simple and matter-of-fact.

Secondly, ask yourself if it brings you closer to God. This is a natural byproduct of the aforementioned humility. If it makes you feel broken, contrite and grateful, it is probably of God. If it makes you feel special compared to others, it is probably not of Him.

Another good test is to see if money, attention or power is being gained in some way. God’s gifts are never about attention, money or power. You are not likely to find swarms of people chanting the name of someone with true spiritual gifts.

Also, God’s spiritual gifts are often only manifested after humanity has done all it can. The gifts of the spirit rarely manifest to save someone from their own folly, or to do what medicine can do on its own. There is a great economy in heaven, and the Lord will not use gunpowder to light a candle. Humility is necessary to awaken spiritual gifts, and cannot be substituted with demands or fear.

I have also found true spiritual gifts are simple and direct. There is no mystical terminology or hazy description with true gifts from God. God is not there to confuse people or to impress them with parlor tricks, He is there to bless us and bring us back to Him. Haze and mysticism serve the one who is trying to mimic God’s gifts, and God has no need of them.

Also, gifts of the Spirit cannot be sought after by traditional means. Attempting to contact spirits or otherworld powers will certainly open you up to things from beyond this world, but they will never be of God. Only faith, prayer, and a purity of heart can invite spiritual experiences of this nature, and only with the willingness to wait on the Lord’s time. It is not sin to seek after these gifts, but it is a very fine line between seeking to gratify one’s own pride and seeking to glorify God. It takes a wise mind and deep soul-searching to discern one’s own motives.

In the end, true gifts of the Spirit are always to serve God. Although it can seem an embarrassing and silly thing to seek after these gifts, when we fail to seek them for the glory of God, and His service, we fail to live up to the full measure of our faith. We should all plead with God to show us how to serve Him best, and to find our spiritual gifts and the courage to use them in humility and faith.

Quick to Observe by Elder David A. Bednar
An Outpouring of Blessings by Julie B. Beck
Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall Elder Dallin H. Oaks
The Life of Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manual
The Spiritual Component of Healing by Elder Alexander B. Morrison
The Day God Healed Me in Today’s Christian

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Winning is Such Sweet Sorrow

I was surprised at my reaction to Proposition 8 passing. I did not feel compelled to participate in campaigning for it, and the extent of my contribution was summed up in a few posts here and comments there. Yet, when I heard it passed, I was awash with a complicated flurry of emotions.

First was relief. Although I can understand that others may feel differently, to me it seemed a symbol of morality. Not all is lost, not all lines have been blurred for all people.

Close thereafter was a much more powerful rush of mourning. I knew that the lives of many would be affected by this, and there must be an immense agony incited by the passing of the amendment. Although it is unlikely to be believed, I ache for the hearts of those who believe they are doing the right thing. I hate pain in anyone, and can understand the feelings of loss, rejection and emptiness that must be felt by so many. Many members of the Church have and will leave because of it, much hatred will be deepened. That can't help but sadden me.

Finally, was a feeling of resignation. It is not over. It is likely that the judges will overthrow this decision as well, since they see it as a human rights issue. Moreover, hatred against the Church is reinforced, perhaps beyond repair. I see this as inevitable, given time, but that does not make it easy to witness.

The whole thing has me feeling rather wrung-out, even though I did not participate. My personality is one that just wants everyone to get along, yet I have a streak of loyalty to what I know to be true. It hurts to defend what I believe in, but I must do it. To me it is a choice between evils, and not much of a choice at all.

Unfortunately, that is often the lot of mortality.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting for the Mob

After listening to a sickening quantity of debates, diatribes and declarations, carefully marking each better choice on my sample ballot, taking the cheat sheet down to the voting center and selecting each in turn, I found myself staring at the screen with a feeling vaguely reminiscent of trying to choose which of my children would die on the sacrificial altar of a God I don't believe in.

I have heard jokes and incredulity that there could still be undecided voters out there. How could anyone not know who they are voting for by now, after two years of inundation? But the concept didn't seem foreign or unbelievable to me. I was one. To be honest, although I voted several days ago, I still am one.

It sounds very defeatist, and I suppose it is, but I don't believe that any presidential candidate will do a good job as president. I don't believe that any of them can act as the figurehead of the modern world without leaving a sour taste in my mouth. Perhaps I am indecisive, but I cannot shake the feeling that a vote is an endorsement. I simply cannot endorse either of those people. Their behavior is juvenile, their pandering is nauseating, and I am left vaguely sickened and somewhat despairing in the knowledge that this is what the American people want in their politicians.

I know there is no way to find a president who will agree with me on every issue. That is not what I am asking. I want a leader for our country with some residue of integrity. I want someone who can say what he or she believes without having to simply tell people what they want to hear. I want a presidential race that is based on demonstrating one's own character, not on smearing the opponents or prattling about "the issues". Most of all, I want to live in a country where people are intelligent enough to look beyond what they think they believe, and see value in honesty and integrity.

I have no hope of any such country. That is why I am still carrying an unshakable heaviness of spirit. I feel rather lonely, despite knowing there are a few others who feel as I do.

I did finally choose. I prayed with all my faith that God would watch over His work and His righteousness, that my choice would not damage the things I feel He holds precious. I was left with the feeling that it would be alright. God is there, and He is still trying to gather those who will be gathered. I don't know who is going to win this election, but I know that I am ready to face the challenges that are sure to continue in my lifetime, whatever the outcome.

There may be no one I can endorse in this presidential election, but there are still people I can affect in my own life, and that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Believe in the Organization of the Church

Articles of Faith #6
[I] believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

I apologize ahead of time for any heaviness of spirit or lack of vibrancy in this post. It covers a subject that is rather raw and tender for me right now. It is, nonetheless, one of the base tenets of my faith, and is a principle of the Gospel I treasure.

Although many of our Church leaders go by slightly different names (patriarchs vs. evangelists, bishop vs. pastors) I believe that our Church structure mirrors that which Christ established. To me, it is not important that it be the same in every little detail, but that the hierarchy of Christ's Priesthood authority be established and maintained.

I believe that the Priesthood is not only the authority from God to act in His name, but is both the right and the responsibility to stand in His stead, to act as if He were here to act. Each office of the priesthood, particularly the higher priesthood (or Melchizedek priesthood) holds keys to certain aspects of God's power, different ways to serve His children.

No matter the man who holds a current priesthood position, no matter his behavior and action, his office deserves respect. I know from experience that men called to Priesthood leadership positions do not always have the Spirit whispering in their ears, feeding them every word to say and every action to take. Some men take advantage of their temporary power to hurt the innocent in horrific ways. The Priesthood does not make angels of men, but it does show them a better way. It teaches leadership through service and love. Not all will listen, but some will. The Lord calls imperfection in order to show that His perfection is enough to cover even the most horrible and grievous sins.

I am comforted to know that the power of the Priesthood is a conditional power. All my obedience to the Priesthood, all of my covenants to respect it, regards the priesthood, not the holder of it. If a man attempts unrighteous dominion, he no longer wields the Priesthood power. It is a power that intrinsically can only be used to invite and persuade.

There are many who despise the male-only priesthood. There are those who cannot understand the closed-door order of bishops and stake presidents which make it difficult if not impossible for higher appeals. I know that this structure exists as it does and is ordained of God as such to maximize each of our potentials for glory. I have known many men who wield their Priesthood in deep reverence, awe and respect. I am grateful for their humble service. I would not have it any other way.

I do not lust after that power for myself. I do not often feel a need for it. I do feel compassion for those who struggle with the organization of the Church for whatever reason. It can be a heavy, frightening burden. To those who do, I echo Ray's admonition on his blog: put down that burden and pick up the burden of Christ. It does not seem natural—it isn't natural—but it is right and good. This I have learned for myself.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Believe in Authority from God

Articles of Faith #5
[I] believe that a [person] must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

I have been called to several callings in the Church. Rarely, have I felt it was a calling from God by prophecy. Usually, it is a calling from man by expediency, with God's approval. The one time I was called to preach the Gospel, however, the divinity of my calling was unmistakable.

When I was fourteen years old, I heard a testimony during a Young Women's camp fireside which struck a fire deep into my heart. From that moment, I knew I was to serve a mission for my Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our missions consist of 19-year-old boys serving two years and 21-year-old girls serving for 18 months in a place chosen by Apostles of the Church.

Although this desire to serve did not immediately change my behavior, I feel it had a subtle effect on my life over the next few years. I cleaned up my language, began listening to different music, continued to go to Church when all pressure pointed otherwise, and made small but very personal changes towards purifying my thoughts and my behavior. I attended college, taking a missionary preparation class. One requirement in this class was to attend a fireside. My memory being what it is, I don't remember who spoke, but during that talk came the distinct and strong impression that I was not to go on a mission.

I was devastated. I had been planning to go, assuming I would go, for years. I had felt called. After a great deal of tearful soul-searching and discussions (relieved on their side) with my parents, I stuck by the feeling I had not to serve.

It was a couple years later when a telephone conversation with my mother sparked an even stronger feeling that I was now to go. It was late for sisters, I was 22, about the time most sisters would be returning from their missions, but the feeling never left me. Thinking I was perhaps wrong, that my feelings came from me, I hesitantly begin to make preparations.

My parents would not support me on this mission, since I was living as a complete adult, and I did not know how to get the money to serve. After sharing this feeling with my visiting teachers, feeling like a tearful nutjob for opening myself up to them this way, I was approached by one who said she would contribute $25 per month. I was filled with gratitude. It would not cover the complete expense, but it was a spark of hope. Her offer was followed by one from my aunts and grandparents. Eventually, my parents called to let me know they would cover the rest. It was nothing short of a miracle to me, and an outpouring of support. I knew from how things all came together that the Lord had provided the means for me to accomplish the things He was commanding me to do by working through those who believed on His name.

Although my bishop was less than supportive of my choice, it was only two weeks from when I submitted my papers to receiving my call, and only a month until I was to report at the MTC. Two weeks after that, I found myself on German soil, feeling rather unprepared, but knowing I had been called of the Lord to be there at that time.

That calling was a protection and a strength to me during a rather trying mission.

I know that many people feel called of God to teach or preach whatever their particular agenda is. I know many take it upon themselves to teach what they think is right, against the counsel of those who are in authority. I believe that it is important to follow those the Lord has set in place to lead His Church. They are human, they are not perfect, but there is a principle greater than perfection, greater than being "right", and that is the Atonement. Christ's suffering, death, and return to life covers the imperfections of our leaders as well as our own sins, should we repent and be faithful to His teachings.

I was not a perfect teacher when God called me to teach. I made many mistakes I still regret. But I am humbled to know that God called me at that time to serve Him in that way, and to know that His purposes are fulfilled even in my imperfections. That understanding has led me to be a little more careful in how I judge the Lord's Anointed, a little more charitable when I don't understand their admonitions and guidance. I fully support the leaders of our Church. I believe they have been called as men to serve in the calling of God, and I am glad we have men upon the watchtower to see those dangers coming and to guard us.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

10 Things a Believing Feminist Can Contribute

I wrote this back in July as a response to another post somewhere that I can't now remember. I didn't post it then, because I felt it was too contentious. Now that the embers of that has died, I went back and read it and realized that there is a lot worthwhile in this beyond simple rebuttal. It contains useful perspective I have gathered in my not-always-peaceful years in the Church.

1. Make smart, insightful, and charitable comments in SS and RS.

2. Volunteer to teach lessons and give them an empowering, subtly faithful twist. (quote church leaders as much as possible and use examples of great people throughout.)

3. Be charitable when something offensive is done. Remember that when you have a lot of toes to step on, your feet will probably be crushed unknowingly. Discuss your concerns with leaders or those responsible. Don't take it upon oneself to change another person's work without their knowledge.

4. When something offensive is said or done in lessons and talks, pray for the Lord to soften your heart and grant you His Spirit and then address either the speaker or RS president and voice your concerns, with the intent to come to a greater understanding between you and the speaker. Chances are people have been offended by you, and you never knew.

5. Be open about who you are. If you are a working mom and loving it, be open about that and talk about why that works for you. Mention it in discussions where appropriate. Rejoice in similar comments from others, even those who stay home to raise their children and love their choice. Be certain to share other aspects of your heart which might help you and others come closer in the worship of Christ. Be willing to support sisters who may need a break from their children to take a class, go to lunch or date their husband, even though your time is limited. Be willing to accept the same help from them.

6. Write. Blog. Learn how other smart people are shining the Light of Christ and contributing in a positive and loving way.

7. Start a book group with all other women in your ward. Discuss issues which concern you. Gain others' opinions on topics and increase your own consciousness of other perspectives, as well as sharing your own. Read and discuss articles of all sorts, particularly those which deal with issues you might have.

8. Tell people about places they can go to share their perspective and gain others' perspective as well. A lot of women have concerns but don't know how to learn about them. Make yourself and your home a safe place for discussion of all aspects of discipleship.

9. Volunteer a lot in your ward. If you build up credibility as a generous giving person, people will give you the benefit of the doubt when you speak up in RS in a thoughtful way.

10. Don’t be afraid to do things a little untraditionally. If you are uncertain about the propriety of an action, counsel with your bishop or other priesthood leader before making a decision. Obedience and humility walk hand in hand with learning and progression.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Believe in the Gospel of Christ

Articles of Faith #4
[I] believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

I have had a surprisingly difficult time writing this. I thought it would be easy, writing about faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I have written about each of these before, I believe, but I have been drawn to talk about them a little differently than I expected to do. Much of what I say here has been revealed to me only recently through scripture study. The words are nothing new, and I feel limited in what I am able to say here, but the understanding is completely new and life-altering. I am still working on it, working through it, but it is more glorious and beautiful beyond anything promised on the path of the Self.

As I have studied these concepts with writing this post in mind, the question Why? continually came to me. We speak all the time of the principles of faith and repentance and the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Spirit, but the "Why?" is usually summed up with "to be saved". I wanted to know more of what "saved" means.

Scripture teaches us a fairly well-known process. The Lord has asked us to believe that Christ can atone for our sins (faith), to do all we can to right the damage done by our sins (repent), to demonstrate our willingness to follow Christ and become cleansed (baptism) and to keep His commandments (also referred to enduring to the end or overcoming by faith). By exercising our self-discipline in a continuing cycle of repentance and obedience, we will be purified.

In return, He has promised us the Gift of the Holy Ghost to help guide us in that cycle, and eventual sanctification by the Spirit. We often speak of this process, but less mentioned is the final step before exaltation: being sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (otherwise referred to as the second endowment, being of the Church of the Firstborn, being given the Second Comforter or having one's calling and election made sure.)

In Sunday School, I was recently enlightened on these questions of "Why follow or perform the principles and ordinances?" and "What does it mean to be 'saved'?". In a rush to "get through the lesson" (a topic for another time), the teacher only read the title of a section in chapter 18 of the Joseph Smith Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual. It reads "Those who receive the testimony of Jesus, receive the ordinances of the gospel, and overcome by faith will inherit the celestial kingdom."

Intrigued by the statement for some reason, though I'd heard it often, I read down in the paragraph and noticed something that wasn't mentioned in the title. It reads ". . . overcome by faith and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true." (D&C 76) I went on a flurry of footnote searching and cross-references and realized that this is the entire reason for the principles and ordinances of the Gospel. They all lead to seeing Him and being ministered to by Him. They are not to restrict or condemn us, they are to lead us to the final sealing, whereby we are sealed to Christ and to Heavenly Father. We will know that we are promised eternal life. It was given to many in their lives, and will be given to all those who have been valiant.

In my reading, I have come to understand that if we do all the Father asks, there will be a time when we are ministered to by Him and by Jesus Christ. They are the Second Comforter.

The Lord said to those who believed they knew better than the words given through Joseph Smith because of his imperfection, "inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me . . . the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am . . . ." That admonition and promise is as true today, among all the flurry of criticism, and "issues" such as women/priesthood, Mountain Meadows, Proposition 8 and such, as it was to Joseph's peers.

We will actually see His face and know Him. It is a gift to all willing to subvert their will to the Father's will, to all who are just and true. This must happen in order to enter the Celestial Kingdom. In a literal way, it is the Celestial Kingdom. I wish I could express the feelings and knowledge burning through me. These words aren't anything new, but my understanding of them is fresh and vibrant. This is no little "I am saved!" this is big. I can only urge all you who read to pray for more knowledge and understanding. There is so much spiritual oil out there that you can only purchase for yourself. If you allow yourself to be distracted by comparatively flimsy issues of "equality", spiritual and literal fingerprints on the windows, or the imperfections of the Church and her leaders, you will miss your own imperfections and the chance to enter this process of purification, sanctification and ministration.

I know with a certainty beyond any other that Jesus Christ lives, that He will show Himself to me if I am patient and faithful, and that He will show Himself to you if you are the same. Please give up the petty jealousies and fears. Do what He asks of you.

There is no other way than the way He has given us; the principles and ordinances of the Gospel.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Conflicting Commandments

by Robin F.

[Editor's Note: This post was written by an utterly brilliant woman and kindred spirit of mine. It has sat in my inbox for too long, because of my own chaotic life, but I believe that what she says is vital to understanding the gospel in this, telestial world. Her life demonstrates what it means to sacrifice in light of an unknown good. I have long admired her. She married one of the funniest, most well-tempered men I have met, and her children are predictably adorable. If only we lived closer together . . . .]

Often the Lord gives us conflicting commandments. Go forth and multiply, but don’t eat of the fruit. Thou shalt not kill, but Nephi has to kill Laban. The scriptures and modern day revelation are riddled with these contradictions. I have often wondered how our scriptural friends reconcile this dissonance. How does one “decide” which commandment to follow and at what time, when it is obvious that following both is simply not an option?

I see this conflict playing out in my own life daily. Luckily, I am not confronted with murdering another, as many of those in the military are. However, in my life the conflicting commandments are just as real and difficult to reconcile: a mother’s place is in the home and get out of debt. All too often, it is not possible to follow both commandments. For my family that is definitely the case. So which command do I follow? And how can I rectify the following of one with the breaking of the other?

In my family, my husband is not in a situation where he could support our family, through no fault of his own. He is currently in school working towards that goal. I, however, can support the family. I am 4 years older and have a master’s degree. Yet, as a mother of 2, I have been taught that my place is in the home with my children. I could stay at home. We would have to live off of student loans, and thus incur great debt. And the cycle continues…

The answer to the conflicting commandments lies within the individual. Living in Iowa in a University community, I know several families who chose to take on large amounts of debt so the wife can stay home. I also know others where the wife is the sole bread winner and the husband remains with the children (in one case, the husband recently passed away from Leukemia, so it was a huge blessing that the wife was able to support the family). Each family must choose, within their own unit and with the Lord, which decision is best for them and the path they choose to follow. It is a difficult choice, one that must be revisited often to ensure that the decision continues to be the right one. Within the realm of conflicting commandments, we are allowed to choose the path that best suits us. All one way, all the other, or a mix of the two. There is no right or wrong decision, as long as that decision is made with the Lord, and with his agreement.

What follows, then, is a great deal of judgment of those who choose another way. The conflict between women who choose to stay at home and those who choose to work is heated. There is much animosity and finger pointing from both sides. And I would dare say that this is even worse within our Wards and Stakes. Each says that they are right and the other is wrong. Each believes that the Lord is on their side and only their side. And each cannot understand how someone could live the other way. With most commandments, this is correct. We follow, and know that not following is wrong. With conflicting commandments, there is a lot of grey, shades of grey which we can embrace.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that sometimes the Lord lets us decide what is best for our families. Not everyone has the patience required to stay home with children. Not everyone has the skills needed to secure a job which can alone support a family. And the Lord with his infinite love for us has allowed for another way. He has left it up to us. And he has given us the framework within which to decide. We can be at-home moms, we can work part time, or we can work full time. We need not feel guilty, regardless of the decision. What matters is that we continue to make our families and the Lord our first priorities.
For all of the soul searching, and heartache that usually accompanies conflicting commandments, I am grateful that they are there. That somehow the Lord realizes that we as his children can make these decisions. And that he trusts us to make them.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

General Conference Questions

At a response from a challenge in a post on Segullah, I'm going to break from my Articles of Faith posts to post my questions for General Conference. I will come back and edit this post later, as they are answered.

1) The ward doesn't really want my input, and my time is very limited. What can I do to serve in my ward?

2) There are many people struggling with "issues" in the Church, some of which I can empathize with. How can I help them feel God's reassurance and love within the Church?

3) What should I do next to deepen my spiritual relationship with God?

4) What can I now do to deepen my family's relationship with God?

5) How can I eliminate negativity when the negativity is continually refreshed, but the positivity is always being depleted?

6) What must I do to gain the blessing given to Nephi by God? Is it possible for me to have such a blessing, since I do not hold the priesthood?

7) Will it be enough?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I Believe in Obedience and Sacrifice

Articles of Faith #3
[I] believe that through the Atonement of Christ, [I and] all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Coming to understand the Atonement has been a long, hard lesson. Although I learned in Primary (children's religious study) that Jesus loves me and died for my sins, what I learned there was nothing compared to the reality of the Atonement.

I have heard the endless debates over faith vs. works to be saved, and I have heard even more endless accusations against those who obey before they gain full knowledge. Like with so many things of the Gospel, faith and works, obedience and knowledge must be balanced to truly follow Christ's example.

After and during some recent serious upheavals in my life, I went through a period of dark depression. I was convinced that I was incapable of pleasing anyone, that I was unwanted and a burden to those around me. My mistakes were unconquerable and numerous. I failed to give my husband enough time, failed to present a kind and gentle heart to those around me. I was full of complaints and frustration. I failed with even the simple task of providing nourishment to my new and precious daughter. I could not connect with people in the Church, could not fulfill the callings I was given . . . . The list went on forever. Every time I grasped at even the slimmest redeeming quality in me, voices clamored in my mind to demean it or turn it into a weakness.

I fought with waning energy to twist myself out of it. I tried counselling, which didn't help. I was desperate for a friend to talk to, but afraid to burden anyone else with the intensity of my emotion, even had there been any one at the time. My slender conviction in Christ, what felt like a wild hope of redemption, was what got me through my daily ritual. All of the "little obedience sticks" like praying, scripture reading and church participation suffered.

Though I can't remember how or when, it was probably in my sporadic scripture reading, that I came across the words of Christ in D&C 50:41-42: "Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me; And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost."
I received an unmistakable confirmation that I was included among those the Father had given to Christ. My wild hope strengthened almost imperceptibly. For the first time in years, I had really felt the Spirit in regards to me. It gave me the strength to keep fighting. In short, my faith in the Atonement led to works.

Some time later, I read this again, "if [you] come unto me I will show unto [you your] weakness. I give unto [you] weakness that [you] may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if [you] humble [yourself] before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto [you]." Suddenly, I realized that the covenant I had made to never give up was beginning to bear fruit. I was reliving depression because I needed to understand where I was coming from. I needed to see that everything I became from then out was because of my Savior.

When I came to understand this, my "works" were illuminated. My efforts were not to prove my worth, or to mold myself into His image, they were the simple expression of devotion. Suddenly, I wanted to obey! I yearned to submit and to serve. I realized that I could be saved through obedience, not because I had to conform, but because those laws and ordinances I followed would bring me joy.

I do not always understand or perfectly agree with the things I am told by the leadership of the Church. But I do know that I will be blessed for my conscious, devoted obedience to the laws of Christ and His Church. It may take courage to rebel against established authority, but it takes more courage to trust and submit without a perfect understanding.

I don't understand the Atonement. I don't know how Christ could love me enough to do all that He has, both in life and after His death. I don't know or understand all His dealings with His anointed servants. But I "know in whom I have trusted." I know His capacity for forgiveness and trust His capacity to change the hearts of men. And so, I will obey.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Believe in Agency and Consequence

Articles of Faith #2
[I] believe that [I] will be punished for [my] own sins, and not for Adam’s (or Eve's) transgression.

Many Christian churches believe that we are being punished in our mortal life as a result of Adam and Eve's choice in the Garden of Eden. When I was young, and investigating many other religions, one thing that drew me quite strongly to the LDS faith was the understanding of individual agency. Rather than denigrating Eve, we venerate her for her bravery. Rather than believing this earth is a punishment for someone else's choices, we take responsibility for our own behavior. We are not ones to claim "the devil made us do it" or to blame Adam for our own misery.

I learned from LDS doctrine that woman does not hold the guilt of the world on her shoulders. Rather, informed or not, she made a conscious choice to embrace pain in order to learn joy. She chose to experience the full depth of depression in order to more perfectly see beauty. She chose to learn from her own experience to know good from evil. She explained to Adam, and he chose also to eat of his own will and they became partners in mortality.

I found this empowering not only from a female perspective, but from a human one. By our parents' choices, we have been given power to make mistakes, to think, to analyze, and to change. We can exercise our intelligence and choose our own path. We have truly gained the potential to be better, like our Father.

As a mother, I have felt this even more empowering. My children have their own lives to live and their own choices to make. So long as I do all I can to love them, teach them, and bring Christ into their lives (and mine!), I may leave their guilt between them and their Savior. I do not have to live vicariously through them. I am liberated from responsibility for their choices. Watching my beautiful daughter begin to exercise the agency given her in part by Eve's choice, but feeling the precariousness of her mortality, I begin to catch a little of the feeling God must have as He watches me struggle, agonize, and learn. Eve's choice is echoed every time we women face mortality, pain and death to bring life into this world. I would never dull that experience and the ones after it, nor dull the deep connection and love I enjoy with my children as a result.

My experiences with this principle have drawn me closer to my first parents. Whether they were apprehensive, frightened, or faithful when they took their first steps into the harsh world, I honor their bravery and the price they paid to give me agency. Rather than severing my connection with them, freedom from their choice has left me able to thank them for it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Believe in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Articles of Faith #1
[I] believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

I don't remember the first time I felt God. I remember coming home from Sunbeams class (the first LDS class of religious studies, entered at 5 years old), and telling my parents what I learned at Church that day. "God loves me."

My father asked me how I knew that. The answer to my five-year-old mind was clear, "Because my teacher told me so." My dad, always pushing his children to develop their faith further, even when we were so young, said something to the effect of "That's good that you listened to your teacher, but how do you know?" He then told me I should pray to feel it myself. This I did and gained knowledge for myself that God is there and loves me, personally.

Many years and experiences later, I had to learn that lesson again. I sat across from my mission president while he asked me the question: "Sister R, do you know that God loves you? Really know it?" Even now, a lump comes to my throat thinking of that moment. At the time, I had forgotten the lesson my father had me learn when I was five. I no longer knew that God loved me, though I still knew He was there. I was fighting my way through my mission, thinking I had something to prove, that somehow I had to earn His love and approbation. It was several days before I could bring myself again to kneel and ask Him to show me how He felt about me. He did. I have never been the same since.

These experiences taught me that I had Father in Heaven and who He is as the Father of my spirit. A relationship with Christ, in a way, is and was both easier and more difficult to build. Christ follows our Father in all things. He is the Father of this earth, and the Father of salvation. He, in essence, is the Father of our third life, that life where spirit and body become inseparably connected. He has become so by obeying and following our Heavenly Father in all things. After my experiences with God the Father, knowing I could ask Him all things, I could pray about them and ask for a confirmation of their veracity in my heart.

These facts about Christ, and even a conviction of them, have not been enough to develop a personal relationship with Him. For that, I have had to pore over accounts of His dealings with past people in the Bible and other scripture. I have read accounts of His life and teachings. I have had to listen to others' accounts of His dealings. In the end, I have had to live. It is only through life—through experiencing the pain and evil of this life Eve chose for us—that I am coming to know and understand my Savior. In raising a daughter, I have learned what it means to love someone enough to do anything for them, even give life. In learning compassion for and unity with my husband, I have learned what He feels that has led Him to forgive all the pain I have inflicted on Him by my imperfection. And, in learning to forgive myself, I have learned to forgive others in humility, gratitude and deep caring for them, rather than just out of indifference.

The Spirit is an even more intimate relationship in many ways. He hears the thoughts of my heart—both ugly and beautiful. He is the one who ties me together with my spiritual siblings. All my convictions rest in his incorporeal hands. I been trained as a horse is trained, with love and firmness, to rely increasingly on His guidance. His presence is like a cozy down comforter on a cold winter day. I am deeply grateful for His guidance.

I am also grateful for the witness of Joseph Smith, who saw God the Father and Jesus Christ standing side by side. I am convinced in heart and mind that his account is honest and true. I'm glad for the surety and solidity of our doctrine on this matter. One in purpose, though separate in being, my LDS view of the Godhead is a model for how I should strive to unite with my fellow man. Like a family, each member fills its purpose to contribute to one great whole. May we, mortal children of God, and heirs to His glory, also achieve such unity. Together in God, our power is limitless.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Am a One, Why Does No One Come After Me?

When I served a mission for my church, we had a few small pamphlets which we could stamp with our contact information and leave in the boxes or under the doors of those who were not at home. We often used them as sorts of business cards. I believe they were 5.5x8", folded in thirds. On the cover of the yellow version of this pamphlet was a question mark. It contained text asking if there were questions in the reader's life which they could not answer. Such questions included, "Who am I?" "Why am I here?" "What is the purpose of life?" There is a question which has come to the forefront of my mind many times in my life. In the parable of the ninety and nine, Christ tells of a shepherd who left his flock to search out the one which was lost. I feel that I am one who is lost, why does no one come after me?

At many times in my life, I have felt cut off from the flock. Once, when I was fourteen, I was actively rejected from it. I have failed to really connect with a ward since returning to Utah after serving my mission. The feeling of failure and of being failed has at times become overwhelming. As a result of my estrangement, I have come to rely more and more on my Savior, knowing that He will never leave me comfortless. Once the tears are spent and I can calm enough to listen, He has always been there to comfort me. It took a change in my approach to realize that He has always been coming after me, just not in the ways I expected.

I have often been tempted to stay home, or even at times to leave altogether. "There is no reason for me to attend Church," I think. "I can feel the Spirit more strongly by serving those who really need it, or by a quiet walk in the woods." Although I have felt the Spirit many times in such circumstances, I know that they cannot replace the need to struggle and fit into the body of the Church.

In response to my desire to simply quit trying, the Spirit has also gradually whispered to my mind the understanding that I cannot allow my salvation to rest on others' shoulders. I cannot permit the actions and behavior of others to come between me and my God.

The final thing I've been taught by my feelings of estrangement is a realization that I've been holding others to a standard I can't match. Not only am I not reaching out to others the way I wish they'd reach out to me, I am expecting other people to read my mind and somehow discern what I need. There is a reason God advises us to ask, knock and seek. I have not been asking others for help, I have not been seeking help. The Spirit can prompt others to help me, true, but if I am not willing to humble myself and ask, I cannot expect others to give to me. The Spirit will not often take up my slack. When I have been willing to open my heart, there have been special souls waiting to soothe it. It has built far stronger connections than I could have imagined, sometimes from unforeseeable quarters.

There are many waiting to help, they only need to be shown how to do it. And, in the end, if you are truly alone on earth, you will never be without comfort if you are willing to accept it.

D&C 61:36-37: "And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you; and inasmuch as you have humbled yourselves before me, the blessings of the kingdom are yours."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Unsaid Sermon

I realize it was posted some time ago, but I just finished listening to a Mormon Matters podcast containing a Sunstone speech on the unsaid sermon. The unsaid sermon is essentially the cultural guilt we feel when hearing the positive spiritual experiences of others. An example would be if a member testified of the blessings they have received for not watching PG-13 movies, and a listener feeling that they are somehow less worthy for watching such movies. While it was interesting, and certainly explored a very real occurrence in Church congregations, and although it approached what I feel to be the most important aspect of this occurrence, I feel that the way it was discussed missed emphasizing a vital point.

They continually mention the "false cultural doctrines" and "false notions" perpetrated by this sort of testifying. In fact, the very term "unsaid sermons" indicates that the person speaking is the one perpetrating these sorts of notions. They miss that the unsaid sermon is not a sermon from the speaker at all, but more accurately, a misinterpretation on the part of the listener.

I believe this to be an important distinction because the connotation to their approach is that we should be more cautious and less free with stories of how the Lord has blessed our lives as a result of certain actions. Removing or even reducing these uplifting stories does not solve the root of the problem: a basic misunderstanding of God's ways and methods.

While the speaker, Dr. Bohn, certainly focuses his points to remedy the situation on self-behavior, a thin thread of misleading information creeps its way into his phraseology. For example, his eighth point "Assume responsibility for our feelings and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ instead of reacting to other members’ well-meaning, false notions and cultural doctrines," begins focusing on your own behavior, but ends up shading blame on other members. Those "other members" are well-meaning, but full of false notions and cultural doctrines, according to him. This is harmful addendum to an otherwise good point.

If I claim "I have made a personal covenant with God not to watch PG-13 movies, and this has blessed and purified my life. God has protected me from evil because of it," I am not testifying to either a false notion or a cultural doctrine. I am not trying to say that because I have ceased watching such movies and have been blessed, all members should do the same. In my life, I have made such a covenant and God has blessed me. I am testifying that the Spirit led me to make a covenant which has helped me personally. The take-away message focuses not on PG-13 movies, but on the act of covenant-making and/or letting the Spirit guide you to how you can purify your life. It also testifies that seeking to purify your life and acting on the Spirit's guidance will gain you blessings from God. The problem is not a false notion, but a false focus on the part of the listener. That listener is grabbing onto the thing in the testimony that will gain them more guilt, not trying to listen for the real message and see how it might apply to their own lives. They are throwing away their right to Spiritual guidance.

Take the story of the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon. One of their examples covers this exact tale. In it, 2000+ young men take up arms to defend their fathers who have taken a covenant to never kill another person. Because of the faith which was taught them by their mothers (and fathers), they are preserved. Although all are injured in the subsequent war, none are killed. This is used to show how a mother of a child killed in war might feel guilty. Perhaps she and her son were not as righteous. Perhaps she didn't teach him strong enough faith.

What this thought misses is that there were many righteous Nephites who were killed in that story. Yet, this miracle was not only a blessing to the young men, but to the whole army. The take-away is not if you are righteous, you won't be killed. It is that the Lord is mindful of us, that faith will strengthen you, and that from time to time the Lord will bless our lives with miracles. Sometimes the Lord's blessing comes in the form of preservation, but in the perspective of an eternal, omniscient, loving God, sometimes it comes in the form of death. The key is to trust that God will protect His faithful when and how He can to bring to pass their immortality and eternal life. God's promise to deliver those young men was specific to them. Another faithful person has another calling. Neither life diminishes the other, but rather strengthens a true faith in God and His love, and knits those lives together into the body of Christ.

The most powerful story that illustrates this concept is found in Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, Daniel's four friends, are pure and faithful, but face death in the furnace. In one of the most poetic and powerful statements of human history, they declaire, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Esther's story which peaks with the declaration "If I perish, I perish," shows no less vibrant, powerful faith. The key is in the faith, not in the miracle.

If we water down our testimonies of God's hand in our lives in the interest of sparing other people self-manufactured guilt, we reject the chance to share our joy. I have often felt the power of unsaid sermons in my life, but I recognize that the problem is mine, not the speakers'. It is Satan whispering in my ear, focusing my attention on the details of the story rather than the moral.

While Dr. Bohn has a good point, and good ways to focus on changing yourself and your attitudes, an important place to start is to cease thinking of others' experiences and personal perspectives as intrinsically wrong and realize that they are not wrong for sharing their life experiences and showing how God has blessed them. They are simply asking you to find joy with them.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Presidential Playground Politics

This is it: I am utterly disgusted with the entire presidential campaign. I expect some childish antics on the part of whichever nominees are elected. I expect it. Yet, they always amaze me with the depths of depravity they are willing to wallow in. Slinging muddy sandbox sand back and forth and crying loudly, "I'MRIGHTI'MRIGHTLISTENTOMEMOMMYI'MRIGHT," their so-called policies and sycophantic promises are deafened only by their immaturity. They are drowning in the things people want to hear and are not really looking outside the box. They are not really caring. I was under the impression from my U.S. History and Politics classes that you had to be 35 to run for president, but I'm beginning to doubt the accuracy of my information. It sickens me that my two-year-old daughter displays more maturity when I take her favorite cup away than either Obama or McCain show in their ostensibly adult politics.

What makes it worse is that the American public can be compared to parents standing nearby, egging their children on. We are so enamored with drama, that we encourage it in our politicians. I am certain that if the American public (and especially the media) showed the least bit of maturity, the politicians would not throw it out the window along with their sense. It is embarrassing to the nth degree. I want to internationally hide my face in shame. Perhaps I shall start wearing a burkha so I won't be recognized. There is little to no chance that our "exalted country" would elect a reasonable, tough but kind person even should one run for office.

I was joking about writing Mitt Romney in for president. It's not that I entirely agree with him, but that I could live with him in the White House, and I cannot stand either of the presidential candidates with one iota of tolerance. I think I'm going to change my write-in vote to my friend's cat, Mo, however. "Mo" is short for "Mo Evil Cat Genius" and I imagine he would do a better job of president than any human interested in the job. He has no chance of winning, as he reaches neither the age nor species requirement, but my vote for him would make my opinions of the presidential candidates perfectly clear (not that it would make a difference). His platform is "Moderation, Sense, and a Litterbox in Every Home." I prefer a candidate who is openly trying to take over the world and subvert the masses.

On a note of complete seriousness and sobriety, however, I do believe that there is no way to morally vote in this election. I feel that if everyone took off their colored shirts, dropped their pet issues for just one moment and really looked at the sorry situation American politics is in, they would leave their shirts in the mud and depart far wiser people. The system is broken, folks. I know it sounds pessimistic, but I believe it is only a matter of time before the consequences show. We will pay for our choices. Of that, I have no doubt.

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