Saturday, June 28, 2008

Dealing with Self-hatred

I may be the only one in the world who deals with this, but in the chance that I am not, I thought to try to share what gets me through it. I have a "besetting sin" (in the words of Anne Shirley) to see and obsess over my mistakes. I doubt I see all of them, but I see enough to entice me to despair, particularly when I hurt others with my faults, which seems to happen far too often. Whenever I have conflict with someone, my mind almost immediately afterward begins to turn on itself. Based on others' expressed opinions of me, I think I must show a calm enough face during the conflict, seeming confident and overly assertive, but the real storm comes after the conflict is over and the other participant has departed. This second storm, a sort of internal civil war, is one I sometimes wonder if I'll one day lose everything to.

It is hard to describe how a person can hate oneself with so much passion without physically taking it out on oneself. I doubt that someone who has never felt this could even imagine what it is like to be trapped in one's own head while words and emotions of such violence mentally pummel you. There is no one to turn to with this intensity of feeling. It frightens me; I would never wish to inflict it upon another, though I have once before, unfortunately, which was a mistake I do not intend to repeat. It is so strange and unlike my usual self, I can only think that it comes directly from the Adversary. When it is over, after I have done the things I describe below, I feel better and more centered again.

The only thing that I can do during times like this is cling to my deep conviction that there is a God, and that He loves me. When I cannot like or forgive myself, I have to remember that there is One who does both. Sometimes I am reminded through music, or the scriptures. Occasionally a friend or acquaintance calls at the right time to shake me out of myself and give me back perspective. At times, when it seems I can no longer bear it, I have felt the very real feeling of arms enfolding me and holding me close. The feeling has been so real, I have been afraid to open my eyes in case it left.

If you have ever had to deal with these sorts of feelings, I plead with you to gain a testimony of the omnibenevolence of God. Pray with all the energy within you to feel Him. He is there! If He, as a perfect being, loves you, then if you do not love yourself it is only another imperfection. What you see, what you think about yourself cannot be truth if it is not also love.

If what you feel is a result of sin—of separation from God—you must repent! Repentance is not the demand of an authoritarian God, it is the plea to turn to Him again, to look at Him and see how much He loves you. Yes, you make mistakes and even sin. That is why Christ paid for that sin. He loves you so much, He suffered pain and death to show you that your imperfection doesn't have to matter. The words of Christ Himself read "If [you] come unto me I will show unto [you your] weakness. I give [you] weakness that you may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for [you if you] humble [yourself] before me; for if [you] humble [yourself] before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto [you]."

Keep clear distinction between sin and mistakes. When we sin, we must expect to be chastened, but do not feel that you must be chastened or condemned for mistakes. Neither sin nor mistakes make you a bad person, they do not make you evil or irredeemable. As Elder Oaks has pointed out the Lord deals differently with mistakes than he does with sin. Mistakes do not require repentance, only to be learned from. Sometimes it takes a long while to learn. When we came here to earth, it was expected that mistakes would be made. When they are, simply throw up your arms and yell "HOW FASCINATING! I have a chance to learn something!" In the Atonement of Christ, even sins become learning opportunities.

I suppose experiencing my feelings when I hurt others has helped me forgive where many believe they could never forgive. Although I have been hurt by others in the past, I am capable of at least knowing the hurt will not last forever, and am usually able to forgive, even through the pain. In this sense, I think my curse is also a blessing.

When you hurt, when you feel alone or are pummeled by the lies of Satan, remember, as Christ would say:
"Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o'erflow,
For I will be with thee, they troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee they deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!"

Suggested Reading:
***Dallin H. Oaks gives a vital explanation of sin, mistakes and forgiveness that can be applied to oneself.
Some great advice about dealing with sin and sinners, especially those whose sins have separated them from some of the more obvious blessings of God. This is a great read which deserves its own post some day.
Gordon B. Hinckley shares how to be happy.
The classic talk by Elder Packer which shows the value of a soul—even yours.
Elder Wirthlin demonstrates how the Savior valued even one soul.
Neal A. Maxwell outlines how to apply the Atonement.
A wonderful essay on how to forgive yourself.
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Zander.
Finally, one about letting go of past mistakes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why Woman Should Serve Man in Marriage

I apologize for the rambling of this post. I'm expressing things as I mull over them, and so am not as articulate as I would like to be. I've observed several conversations of late and I find it unfortunate how "serve" has become a curse. It seems that many equate serving with being walked all over. I think that one of the things that we have lost in the concept of marriage (though we have gained things, as well) is the idea that marriage is for others, for the spouse and children, as well as ourselves. All too easily we are tempted to walk out of a marriage when it is not giving us what we expect or demand. Untold pain to all involved is born as a result.

Women should serve because it is part of woman's role to serve, to make her husband comfortable and loved, to ensure her children have a safe place in her. This truth does not preclude the fact, however, that men should also serve. It is their role to also provide a safe place for wife and children, to protect and love them, to cherish them, to help them feel comfortable and valued. This is not a new concept, and its reality is as elusive today under our "new concept" of a marriage of equals as it has ever been.

I do not know the future of marriage. I am not firmly convinced of who is right and who is wrong in the endless debates on the subject. My mind tells me some things, my heart tells me others. But I can see that one of the primary purposes of the family is to serve each other. Service is at the core of the priesthood as demonstrated by Christ himself, and is the essence of motherhood. I believe it is also the essence of Godhood.

Yes, women should serve men, but so should men also serve women. Her service is intertwined with his. If either breaks their covenant, there is no promise. Both must serve God and each other. I love to serve, even when that service is not accepted. I wish only that I were better at it, and not so easily beset by selfishness both within my marriage as without. Until service—even in the face of ridicule and humiliation—is accepted and performed in spite of rejection, we will never understand Christ well enough to be like Him. He submitted himself to sinners to be mocked so that He might redeem them. We cannot be as He is until we do, to the utmost of our sphere, what He did.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Blacks, Priesthood and Alma 13

As I was reading for next week's Sunday School lesson, I was immediately plunged into an interesting discourse from Alma, speaking to the apostate city of Ammonihah, which most likely fed into the pre-1978 belief that non-whites were not given the priesthood because of lack of worthiness, a thought particularly repugnant to us, now. This scriptural passage discusses the "holy order" of the priesthood, teaching us that priests were "called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God. . . " and that this was done "on account of their exceeding faith and good works". As you read further, it teaches that others would also have as great privilege as the priests, were it not for the "hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds".

This combination of statements seems to make it clear that those who are given the priesthood are righteous, while those who are not, are not. There are a few things to keep in mind before an understanding of these verses can truly be reached, however. First, if you read just a little further, Alma says, "in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son. . . ." This shows that, although conflated in language through much of this passage, being given the priesthood does not confer righteousness, rather righteousness prepares one for the priesthood. The priesthood was prepared from the beginning for all those who would humbly accept the atonement. This does not mean that all those who accept the atonement would be called to the priesthood, merely that the priesthood was prepared for them.

Historically, the priesthood and the gospel were given to one group of people before being shared throughout the world, such as was the case with Adam, Melchizedek, Abraham and other prophets. In the case of the gospel of the Messiah, He was given first to the Jews, the gospel of His coming to be preached later to the Gentiles. Although this means that the Jews were certainly blessed to have Jesus walking among them, it is no comment on the personal righteousness of the Jews. (If anything, it is the opposite, to say that the Jews were capable of crucifying the very Messiah they were waiting for.) The Gentiles were more blessed to receive a witness of Christ through the Holy Ghost.

Why would the Lord do things in this manner? Why limit the blessing of the Messiah to a group of people? Because, at least in part, it is our responsibility as children of God to help each other return to Him. The Jews were given the responsibility of teaching of the coming of the Messiah. The Lord would not deprive them or the Gentiles of the blessing of helping their brethren convert or of being helped by a fellow, imperfect being.

So how does this relate to the blacks and the priesthood? Simply in that, although whites were first given the bulk of responsibility to hold the priesthood and thus to preach the word of God to all people, there was a time when that was shared among all. It follows the pattern set out in scripture. This does not mean no blacks were given the priesthood, such as in the case of Elijah Abel, just as there were some non-Jews who were able to see Jesus and be taught by Him, but only that there is an order to the way God reveals the gospel and bestows the responsibility of the priesthood which accompanies it.

I don't think anyone can understand and come to peace with this issue without first truly believing that God is at the head of the Church, and that He has His reasons for His behavior, whatever those reasons might be. We can speculate, but not really know until we are taught by His prophet or by the Spirit. Secondly, one must understand and accept that the Priesthood is not a tool of showing favor or of granting power. It is a tool to teach righteousness (among other things), both to the wielder and to the receiver of its blessings. In the end, as Alma taught next in chapter 13, it does not matter who holds the priesthood and who upholds it, it matters only who is righteous and who is not.

Friday, June 20, 2008

But Behold, They Did Not

I am slowly going through a change in the way I approach my opinions. It is generally accepted that, should one have an opinion different than the majority, or (barring majority) socially accepted, one is perforce wrong and should keep it to oneself. My natural inclination is to not make waves, though my upbringing has taught me that challenging beliefs—mine as well as others—is, to a point, healthy. (Of course there is balance in all things, and challenging merely for the sake of challenging crosses that line.) I hate contention, though I'm always for a bout of debate, so long as no hard feelings are present at the end. As I read the chapters in Alma which correspond to my Sunday School lessons, I'm starting to feel that this may not always be the best approach, however. Alma 9, especially poignant, reads:
And they stood forth to lay their hands on me; but behold, they did not. And I stood with boldness to declare unto them, yea, I did boldly testify unto them, saying: Behold, O ye wicked and perverse generation, how have ye forgotten the tradition of your fathers; yea, how soon ye have forgotten the commandments of God.

This troubles me, because I don't see this sort of boldness in myself. I still have too much fear. But where is the balance between boldly testifying and not offending? Where does the burden of not offending lay with me, and where does it lay with the one being offended? I suspect some will be offended, no matter what is said, for they are offended by the word of the Lord, and expect you to tell them what they want to hear.

I suspect the balance lies somewhere in the words of Jacob. We are to trust in the Spirit to guide us to what we should do. Even though boldness in testifying may be difficult for us, we should say what the Lord commands us to say, even should it offend others. We should always try to have the Spirit in all we say (or type!) That isn't to mean we shall always be perfect at it, but that is also not to mean that just because someone is offended, we should not say it. Sometimes, despite the best of efforts, others will do all they can to be offended. If they can ferret out things to be offended by, they can discard the rest of your words, no matter how Spiritually inspired they may be, and thus don't have to change.

I think just that was observed when Sister Beck shared her controversial talk.

The end remains that, though you should try to see another's point of view, a point will come when you cannot agree with their conclusions. When given the choice between serving the master of popularity, who asks for you to say things that are pleasing, and rails against you when you do not, or the one who pleads and chastens.

For obvious reasons, this has been on my mind quite heavily of late. It is a frightening proposition, but I am no longer going to make peace out of default. If I have said something I believe in, I will declare it should the Spirit so move me, and no longer labor under the burden of agreeability. Sometimes the only way is for the Church to assert its position and beliefs firmly enough that those who disagree with its most basic tenets find the impetus to follow their beliefs, no matter how painful and difficult it may be to those who love them, and no matter the social and physical danger. Not all those who rail against the word of God find themselves unable to harm those who testify.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Priestcraft and the Modern Mormon, Part II

I'm finally getting to a continuation of my previous post, which proved to be too long in one piece. In my last post, I described characteristics of Nehor's teachings and behavior, and drew some parallels to modern thought. I believe this recounting of Nehor and his final fate is shared as a warning to us.

Third, the actions of Nehor's followers:
  1. They respected the law because they were afraid of being punished.
  2. They taught for honor and riches.
  3. They pretended to believe the things they taught.
  4. They persecuted those of the Church with words.

I find it interesting that Nehor's followers were law-abiding citizens, but only insofar as they would not get caught or punished. It seems they were continually testing the bounds of the law, weaving their way through loopholes and exceptions. Their purposes for teaching others their beliefs were not to share something which had brought them joy, but were to gain honor and riches. This meant they said what people wanted them to say and reveled in the attention it got them. It's easy to see how televangelists might fit into this characterization, but there are those within the Mormon church who might find themselves bearing testimony during fast Sunday or giving a talk who are doing so to gain attention. Such "testimonies" rarely share truths the speaker feels, but might give a recount of the week with a sort of "the Spirit helped me here" or "I was in tune when this happened" or "I know the Church is true and President ________ is a prophet of God, amen!" tacked on the end. (This doesn't mean you, as part of the Congregation, should be critiquing others' testimonies, just that you should pay attention to your own and share what the Spirit wants to you share, keeping extraneous self-gratifying information out of it.)

The second half of the characteristics of Nehor's followers intrigues me the most. First, as a group they pretended to believe what they were teaching. They didn't actually believe it. Perhaps they "believed" it because they wanted to believe it, but in their heart-of-hearts, they knew that what they taught wasn't true. They taught it because it sounded good; it was logical, reasonable and comfortable.

Lastly, they persecuted the Church, not by physically harming them (as that was against the law) but with words. I believe I'm rather familiar with the form these persecutions would take. They likely labeled them with things such as "blind obedience" "illogical", saying things like "you cannot know there is a God" because you can never be certain of it. They ridiculed their faith as being ignorant and provincial. They probably attacked the Church leaders as money-grubbing men (since the only thing they could understand is a desire for money.) They probably figured members of the Church were out of tune with modern thought. In short, they were probably much like many of us today. I would bet that not all the followers of Nehor were outside of the Church.

Fourth, the actions of those in the church:
  1. They contended with them, both verbally and physically.
  2. For those who contended, their hearts became hard and they left the Church.
  3. Some did not contend back and were patient with the verbal abuse.
  4. They taught the doctrines of the gospel humbly and without pay.
  5. They gave to those in need and did not wear expensive clothing, despite prosperity.

This is a pointed warning against getting entrapped in contention with those who criticize the Church. According to the account, those who were otherwise faithful became involved in debating points of doctrine, which debates eventually became physical. When they debated, they became filled with anger and frustration, which drove out the Spirit, causing their hearts to be hardened and them to leave the Church. If you look back at the previous post on Nehor, you will see that their behavior began to mirror Nehor's - they banded together in fighting and contention, eventually turning physical. Essentially, those who practiced priestcraft were able to draw others into the same practice by gendering debate and contention. Only those who did not contend back, humbly took whatever abuse was given them and simply offered their testimonies without pay, remained faithful and in the Church. They put their emphasis on helping those in need, whether in or out of the Church, both temporally and spiritually.

So how do we combat priestcraft in ourselves? I have a particular struggle with the aforementioned temptation to indulge in contention right now. Where is the balance between sharing testimony and avoiding contention? How can you draw the line between explanation and debate? I have difficulty taking verbal (or written) abuse patiently without lashing back or at least trying to defend myself, particularly when I'm (pridefully) aware of how good I can be at dealing it back. Truthfully, however, those attacking you or the Church generally do so for the express purpose of getting you to attack back. So long as they can get you riled up, they can justify their own behavior and don't have to change. So long as they can twist your words to something they can argue against, they can ignore the part of your meaning that would encourage them to soften their hearts to the Spirit. I long to find the balance between "bearing down in pure testimony" and contention. I want to be able to be patient during abuse, but still firm in expressing my convictions. I suspect that within that delicate balance lies one step closer to Godhood.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Priestcraft and the Modern Mormon, Part I

A combination of reading and thinking this week has led me to a sobering train of thought. The book of Alma in the Book of Mormon introduces a man named Nehor. Nehor sets in motion a movement that proves the ultimate destruction of the people of Nephi. Despite his eventual ignominious demise, the organization inspired by Nehor's teachings introduces priestcraft and secret combinations to the people. Nehor is an antichrist. I've read the story dozens of times, but I've never before applied it to my current life this way, nor have I really thought about what an antichrist is.

First, hallmarks of Nehor's teachings.
  1. Nehor taught things he claimed (believed?) were from God.

  2. Nehor taught against the established Church.

  3. Nehor wanted teachers of the gospel to be supported by the people, and essentially voted into place.

  4. Nehor said that all men would be saved, and that all men ought to rejoice because all had been redeemed.

It amazed me how many of Nehor's teachings and behavior are in alignment with modern thought. Despite the desires of those who follow current society's pressure to seem tolerant and modern, their mode of thinking is anything but new. We would like to think that we are tolerant of other people and their beliefs, but the Internet and media discourse are rife with examples of "I'm tolerant unless you think this way." Nehor used the freedom to preach according to belief to gain money and prestige, but he did not allow Gideon the same freedom to do so without money or price.

Nehor also taught against the established Church doctrines. While it is obviously not definitive of antichrist status, teaching against the established Church, especially in certain political climates, is something that bears looking into. In order to determine whether preaching against the established church is indicative of antichristianity, one must examine the motivations. Such motivations are extremely difficult to judge objectively in another person, since (as stated before) the person in question often claims to be preaching according to belief. However, although such judgment isn't objective, it is rather easily determined subjectively by a person's nonverbal behavior. If they are enjoying the attention or popularity, it is priestcraft. A person preaching God's words honestly is largely unconcerned with others' reception of it. They will preach earnestly and entreatingly, rather than with an self-serving personal agenda. They will be shining God's light to the world, rather than their own.

Also, Nehor believed in grassroots change. He taught that the people should determine who should teach. Much like many people today, he thought that the people would be best able to direct the direction of the Church. He thought that those who teach should be paid. I find it interesting how many times I have heard people claim that the LDS Church should switch to paid clergy because the quality of teaching improves.

Nehor also preached that, in the end, all will be saved. This is an enticing teaching that we humans have difficulty releasing. I've heard an increasing number of modern LDS members proffer the opinion that all will be well in the end. They say, for example, that even if a family member does not accept the gospel in this life, despite all opportunity, they will still be able to all live together because the gospel teaches that families are eternal. Essentially, this means that what we do here has no value, so long as we more or less try to be good people. This is one of the most insidious of the Adversary's ideas because deep down, we all want the happy ending and deep down, we have all defined what a happy ending is. We forget that even those who are wicked on this earth will have some level of happiness. We forget that the Church teaches that families can be together forever, not will be. Only those who meet the complete laws of mercy and justice can become as the Father, but everyone else will be happy where they are, too.

Second, Nehor's actions:
  1. Nehor began to wear expensive clothing.

  2. Nehor gathered followers and established his own church.

  3. Nehor fought and contended with those who taught the Church's doctrines.

  4. Nehor became violent during one of these contentions.

I won't spend as much time on these, as they are self-explanatory for the most part. Suffice it to say that there are those who, excommunicated or disaffected from the Church, continue to teach things they claim to believe and who do all they can to gather supporters. Although I don't think physical violence and expensive clothing are prerequisites to being antichrist, they are certain indicators that their "beliefs" are hollow. I think we "modern" humans tend to believe that if the most extreme of indicators are not present, there is no problem. On the contrary, one does not have to apply with the government to establish a church, nor does one have to buy Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses or gas-guzzling Ford F-350's to fulfill the spirit of "expensive clothing".

Next post, I'll discuss how Nehor's teachings and behavior affected both his followers and church members.

Highly Suggested Reading

Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, 1994. I stumbled on this while researching priestcraft. It is an utterly amazing talk, given almost a decade and a half ago. Read it! I think everyone can find something useful to them in it.
Why We Serve also by Elder Oaks, 1984. This one also holds a magnifying glass to our motives. Well worth a read.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

New Design

You haven't gotten lost, this site really does look different. A wise friend of mine reminded me that the slipshod design I'd put up when I first instituted this blog was difficult to look at, so I thought I'd do a quickie revamp. There will be more changes later. At our current pace it will be ready probably some time after 2012, when the world is supposed to end.

The good news is there is a chance I'll be a perfect designer, after the Millennium.

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