Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Unchosen

I once met a twenty-year-old man with a strange story to tell. This man's parents and siblings were active in Church service, one of the few families in his area who were. He loved missionary work, having converted to the restored Gospel of Christ when he was a child. When he was eighteen, he filled out and submitted his mission papers, eagerly awaiting his call. Surprisingly, the letter he received in return did not state the area in which he would serve. It said, rather, that the missionary board had received no inspiration to where he should serve. He was told there would be a six month waiting period, at the end of which he should submit again. Again, there was no call and the letter suggested he wait another six months. Shortly before I met him, he tried a third time. This time the letter came back stating that he was fully worthy to serve, but that it was clear the Lord wanted him to serve in his home town. He was ward mission leader.

I found it interesting when reading Alma 31 that Helaman, the one to whom he would give the keeping of the records, did not go on the mission to the Zoramites. Alma left him home. For whatever reason, he was called to serve quietly while his (perhaps) less worthy brothers went to reclaim the apostate Zoramites with their father. I have often felt this way, left behind while others claim blessings and give service in which I long to participate. Not all the places in the garden of the Lord receive as much sunlight as others, but I believe every place has a purpose and adds beauty.

Sometimes it's hard to be asked to wait. It can feel lonely, as if the Lord has no need of you. But I have been promised that the Lord has need for every hand willing to till the earth, no matter how unskilled or inept. Whatever our own personal weaknesses, whatever our private pain, the Lord needs us. We may not all be bishops or Apostles, but the mothers and sisters, fathers and sons, ward greeters and hymnbook-retrievers can all bring beauty and joy to the Lord's kingdom.

That twenty year old man who wanted little more than to serve a mission was one of the best ward mission leaders in that area. His efforts brought more of his friends and others to the gospel of Christ than the missionaries did. He was truly called to serve at home as an instrument in the hand of God, and many were "brought to sing redeeming love" among the disciples of the Most High God.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Obedience Despite Disagreement

I want to share a story. I apologize, but it is a mission story, I can't help that. It is something quite personal and sacred to me, but at the urging of a friend I shall share it here.

My mission president was the sort of man who was able to see straight through you and into your soul when he shook your hand. He was wise and patient, and able to interview and teach missionary work on levels suited to the individual missionary. He was quite strict, having inherited a somewhat chaotic mission. He was roughly halfway done with his mission when I entered the mission field. He also loved sisters and sister missionary work.

I was in four areas during my first nine months, transferred nearly every transfer, until I was sent to the most remote sisters' area in the mission. The nearest member priesthood wielders were in a town 10 minutes away by train. The nearest missionaries were 30-40 minutes away by train. We were effectively alone in our work. Moreoever, the ward did not like missionaries. They had some bad missionary experiences in their fairly recent past, and still largely thought of the missionaries as parasites with no benefit to them.

The work was difficult there. We were remote, and had no car. We walked and used public transit. The terrain was fairly hilly, and communities were spaced relatively far apart. With little member support and no other missionaries, it was lonely. We struggled to teach and bring investigators to church, only to have them shunned and ignored. It was difficult. After praying about it for some time and receiving strong Spiritual confirmation, my companion and I decided to recommend that the area be closed to missionaries for a time. It would give the members time to rest. Eventually, our desires were granted.

I was sent to a place I had always felt I would be sent. I felt I had some specific work to do. It was four and a half months before the end of my mission, as I had decided to take the later return home. Also, two weeks after my transfer, we were to change mission presidents and merge with another mission. I was placed in a companionship which was amiable for about two hours, but then fell apart when I looked over the book and, as the senior companion, prepared to direct our companionship's work.

My companion of the time was very headstrong, and though she was junior companion in her previous companionship, she made all the decisions. In the brief time observing the companionship before the other sister returned home, I saw a rather emotionally abusive relationship. This sister resented my outlook on missionary work, as I thought we should spend our time teaching and tracting, and not lounging around members' houses, having come from an area which was still suffering from such behavior. She felt the best way to do the work was to buddy up with the members.

As those who have been in these sorts of relationships know, when the parties agree, it is as if there is no senior and junior companionship. When the parties do not agree, however, it is the job of the senior companion to prayerfully and considerately make the decision. I admit I was not as considerate as I now wish I had been. To me, the mission was about work, not play, and I was still young in my position as senior companion. The companionship quickly became completely unbearable, and we spent more time split with the office sisters in our apartment next to the main office, and not together as companions. In this personal climate, we gained a new president and merged with the other mission.

The new president knew our previous president fairly well, as they had served missions together. Purely in speculation and feelings I gained, as they made little to no outward sign of it, I feel they did not particularly get along before. They were completely cordial to each other, however, and our beloved mission president left the mission in the hands of his successor. Perhaps because there had been some history behind them, perhaps because all new presidents feel they need to change things, perhaps because of the merger, our work quickly changed. The new president felt that triple companionships were a waste of resources, and since there were two sister companionships of that nature in the mission, within a week my previous companion and I were sent back to the area we had been relieved to leave.

I couldn't help but feel that it was a personal failure on my part. If I had been a better senior companion, had known how to deal with my angry junior companion, perhaps I would have been allowed to stay where I felt I should be and do the Task I thought the Lord wanted me to do. My failure, in my eyes, was spectacular. My companion was transferred out of the area in the next transfer and I was paired with a senior sister.

She was in her seventies, but extremely fit, especially for her age. It was good that she was so, because the terrain had not changed and we still had no car. Feeling like a failure, I redoubled my efforts to work hard and frankly pushed her far too hard to learn the language and keep up with the work. I was perfectly horrible to her. I felt completely crushed by my situation, and at a loss to know what to do. Each transfer I prayed to leave, each time I stayed I knew I was still a failure. I knew I had messed up beyond repair, and I was banished to a place I could do little further harm, paired with someone who could not help me prove I was worthy.

During this time of angst, the president decided that as a mission, we were not working hard enough and doubled our goal numbers. He strongly favored the other mission we had merged with and constantly lauded their efforts and their successes. They were a much smaller mission and had not been transferred very often. Most missionaries there would serve in one or two areas before going home, our average was more like four or five. They were the golden children, and resentment was building in our half of the mission. As the most senior sister remaining from that mission, I was the recipient of a great deal of complaining.

The resentment only grew worse as rumors began to circulate that the new president's favorite sister missionary was calling her previous Zone Leader (across two countries) after curfew. Other similar rumors began to fly. As telephone records came out, so did the truth. This sister and the elder involved were sent home honorably, from what I remember, as it was time for her to return home anyways. That was not the end of it. Perhaps because of the infrequent transfers or smallness of that mission, most of the rumors were true. It quickly became common knowledge that the Golden Child was in a state of decay, and the whipping boy was boiling in anger over it.

I thought it would be a good idea to let the president know the state of feeling among many of the missionaries, including myself, before it boiled over. I was recalled from my remote area, riding 5 hours alone to return to the area I felt I was supposed to serve in. I had no idea what was going on. When I got to the office, I sat for some time before being invited in. There followed a long, tearful, emotional interview in which I was informed that the Mission President was sending me home in the next transfer. I was to be given an honorable discharge, but was not to stay the extra month I had felt strongly I was to serve, despite my personal difficulties.

He felt I was breaking under the stress of the mission and could not handle another month. I plead with him as I have never done so with anyone else. I knew I was supposed to stay. I promised I would no longer complain and would do all I could to disperse the ill feelings of others. I can't remember everything I said in that interview, but by the end, he let me stay (on probation.) I returned, completely humiliated and broken. I served my last month without the zeal and energy I had before depended on.

In my time after being sent back, we had completely ceased doing member meals. At first this was only our companionship's choice, but the president had meanwhile told the missionaries that member meals were to be done on their free time and were not to count as missionary work, unless a nonmember was present. We tracted. Fairly early in my return, a referral came in from a member in another mission. This lady had gone through a divorce and had one son, about two years old. She was utterly sweet, and lived in the furthest reach of our area. We had to travel an hour and a half by train to teach her. We had been teaching her every week when I was recalled to the office, and after I returned, she set a baptismal date and ended up being baptized the Saturday before I left for home. She was the only baptism of someone I had taught which I saw in the course of my mission.

Gradually, during my last month, my humiliation became mixed with humility. I began to see all the many things I had done wrong in the latter course of my mission. I began to understand that I had no right to take upon myself the responsibility of informing the mission president what he was doing wrong. I certainly should never have participated in all the ill feeling towards him. Even if I had felt it, I should have kept it to myself.

I believe his efforts, though misguided, were deeply sincere. He had been trying to do the right thing. It was some time after my mission that I saw that his situation was not so different from what mine had been as senior companion to a girl who resented me. In my own small way, I had been in a leadership position I was ill prepared for. I had made serious mistakes, despite trying to do what I felt was right and trying to follow the Spirit with all my energy of soul. How wonderful it would have been, and how much more I could have learned, had my companion chosen to support me with gentle discussions of how she felt I was wrong. If she had given me time to grow and learn, we could have been a stellar companionship.

I'm sure the new president learned some life-changing lessons in the course of his service, despite its stormy beginnings. I still cherish him and his wife, and wish I were better at keeping up with them. I know he is—and was—a man of God, called by Him to be there in that place and time, despite his imperfections and insecurities.

There is a time, place and manner in which to disagree with our priesthood leaders. They are imperfect, but I have never once met one who wasn't trying to do the right thing according to their understanding. It is so vitally important to treat them with charity and understanding. Love them, even if you don't agree with them. Realize that the Lord has called them to their position for reasons you don't know. Through their leadership service, they will learn charity and humility. In the meantime, support them with a whole heart, even if you cannot agree with them. Disagree respectfully and lovingly. You never know when you will be in a place of leadership where you will wish that you had one person willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


First, a disclaimer. I have never been involved in any way in a disciplinary council. Since the proceedings of such are not publicized, I have no direct knowledge on the subject. What I do have is observations of the excommunicated's behavior afterwards and their explanation and publication of the proceedings. That is what I'm going on.

I find it interesting how excommunications from the LDS Church gain so much sympathy and publicity. Many rail against the Church's actions. The Church, like any church, has the perfect right to excommunicate anyone who does not agree with them. You can't see the NAACP keeping racists within their ranks, nor can you see Democrats welcoming in flaming conservatives with open arms. Of course, almost no thinking person agrees wholeheartedly 100% with the Church. It is entirely the Church's prerogative to determine where disagreement crosses the bounds of membership in the Church.

Moreover, it is silly when people act surprised at the results of the most publicized disciplinary councils. Many bemoan the lack of perspective from the Church's side. Both this recent "Men on a Mission" calendar creator's excommunication and the long-mourned excommunication of the September Six seem to me to be fairly cut-and-dry. Granted, no one really knows the details who was not present, but the general requirements for excommunication are quite clearly outlined in scripture.

When a person breaks the covenants they made at baptism, they are excommunicated. It is as simple as that, and I imagine it is rarely in any doubt. If, in a disciplinary council (consisting of members who have authority and stewardship to be there), the person in question is told that their behavior is a sin and they need to repent, and they then frankly refuse to do so, they are excommunicated. They have starkly refused to be humble. They have vocally and obviously placed something above their covenants, whether that be a pet doctrine or a disrespectful calendar. Generally speaking, they have deliberately flaunted other covenants they have made and broken the commandments of the Lord. Moreover, most of them have agreed that they no longer believe or are willing to follow the tenets of the Church. They have usually effectively withdrawn themselves from membership already. If they were on top of things, they would have already asked to have their names removed (unless they are using their membership as a supposed stamp of respectability.)

Additionally, the excommunication is better for all parties. It is intended, much like withdrawal of the privilege of taking the sacrament, to wake the person to the seriousness of the need to repent. All who are excommunicated have the opportunity to be rebaptized, if they repent. The grounds for repentance are no different than they are for being baptized the first time.

Actions that might get you excommunicated should you refuse to accept correction include:
  1. Preaching doctrines not officially taught by the Church
  2. Murder, incest, or child abuse
  3. Apostasy
  4. Fraud and dishonesty in business dealings
  5. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  6. Homosexual and extramarital sexual relations
  7. Abandonment of family responsibilities
  8. Many, many other things

Actions not subject to disciplinary council include:
  1. Not paying tithing
  2. Breaking the Word of Wisdom
  3. Neglecting to attend church or to receive home teachers
  4. Business failure or nonpayment of debts
  5. Personal disputes
  6. Voluntary request to have one's name removed from the records of the Church.

Those curious to learn more can read Elder Ballard's discourse on the subject and Elder Robert Simpson's discussion on repentance and Church courts. I found both to be very instructive.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nothing Wavering

For those of you interested in reading about LDS topics without the anti-establishment drama (or, at least, with significantly less of it) I recommend nothingwavering.com. It is a flawlessly executed and aesthetically pleasing aggregator for LDS blogs. It does not only list fluff blogs, full of the sweetness with none of the sorrow, but it does only list blogs that discuss topics in the light of faith. Those which do little but complain and bask in the light of their own sparks of intelligence need not apply.

Moreover, I really enjoy the way it is organized. It isn't nearly so bulky and is not ranked by popularity or size, only by content type. It is organized into LDS-topic blogs, LDS-written blogs and official LDS blogs. It also has a topic cloud for each section, should anyone be searching for information on a particular subject.

In my opinion, the best part about this aggregator is that it is newbie-safe. In other words, those tender spirits who are just venturing into the world of blogging and are unprepared for the viciousness of less-orthodox blogs have a place to start. So, share with friends and family. Move them into the next level of technology! Get them connected!!!

If you have your own blog, even if it's a Mormon life blog more than a Mormon doctrine blog, I strongly suggest you submit your address to this blog. Not only will it help you gain readers, but it will also serve to show real-life, faithful LDS lives. The more of us willing to be out there, the more understanding between us will grow. Although it may or may not be included, it is certainly worth submitting.

A special bow and thanks goes from me to J. Max Wilson. for the effort. He is a programming guru. Thank you!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Letting Your Temple Recommend Expire

I firmly believe that most gospel questions can be answered by an appeal to scripture, with modern revelation clarifying points. Our high councilman spoke to my ward yesterday and mentioned something, however, that I have been unable to clearly answer. He said, "If you let your temple recommend expire, those blessings are temporarily shelved." I believe "those blessings" to which he was referring were the blessings of the temple. It caught my attention, because I am not sure I understand what he was driving at or fully agree with what he said.

So, I did what I try to always do: research it in an attempt to gain understanding. I have found several talks from various sources that discuss temple recommends, but I haven't found anything that exactly resolves my confusion. It seems to me from the sources (listed below) that the temple recommend is a physical symbol of spiritual worthiness. One blessing the recommend provides is the ability to attend the temple. It is true that if we do not have a current recommend, we cannot enter the temple. That is certainly one blessing that is shelved. I feel that many blessings to which he was referring, including the protection of the covenants, are not shelved. Even if your recommend temporarily expires through inattention or inability to renew it for whatever logistical reason, you have still made the covenants. So long as you are living up to those covenants, you should receive the blessings of them.

What are your thoughts on this topic? There is very little chance for an appeal to authority or for him to explain what he meant by his quote, unfortunately. I would like to ponder it out until the Spirit can lead me to an answer. Others' perspectives on the issue would certainly help.

Women's Manual
Elder Nelson
Elder Robbins of the Seventy
President Hunter
President Hinckley

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oh, That I Were an Angel!

I have never really understood Alma 29. In it, Alma expresses the desire to be an angel and to cry repentance with a voice to shake the earth. Then, he says that he sins by wishing that. I always thought that sounded rather falsely humble. After all, is it not a great work of God to wish to cry repentance?

Now I think I begin to understand an inkling of why that was a sin. I have come to a point where I see people I love and others I care about making choices that cause them pain. It brings me a very real sorrow to see them lying to themselves and cheating themselves out of happiness, not to mention all those around them. I have felt the desire to shake them and say "Can't you see what you are doing?!" But Alma's statement that he sinned by wishing the same thing was no false humility. It was true.

Part of the price we pay for our agency is the agency of others. When it is legal to smoke, we are accepting the damage that nicotine does second-handedly to our lungs. When we choose to marry, have children or make friends we are also accepting that they have their own agency which can then hurt us by their actions. When we overcome our own natural inclinations in order to preach the gospel, we must accept that there are those who will refuse it, despite our sacrifices. When we decide to be disciples of Christ, we take upon ourselves His name and, by so doing, take upon ourselves some degree of His sorrows and travails. I wonder if the pain He felt came more from watching those He loves make choices that cause only grief. I have learned how that can be a very real pain, even if the actions of another don't affect me in any more material way. I have felt no agony more exquisite than watching someone exercise their agency in a way that causes unforeseen pain, knowing I should do nothing to restrict them from doing so.

It is a sin, perhaps one of the gravest sins, to desire to take away another's agency. All of the worst sins including murder and chastity infringements center around that desire (or at least that disregard for another's agency). Allowing others their agency in no way invalidates laws required to govern our behavior in society, but it does mean that the execution of those laws must be done with true understanding. They must not be upheld through a desire to control, only a desire to protect. It may seem like a very thin line, but I think it means a world of difference in the realms of the soul.

It is vital to remember that we have each been given an allotment from God. That allotment may include great deeds, but it more importantly and more commonly includes the small ones. It does not matter whether you serve as priesthood wielder, prophet, Nobel Peace Prize winner, sister or mother, so long as you serve as a child of God, with all the powers and divinity which come with your status. Alma was not an angel, nor was he called to be the hand by which the miraculous work of converting the Lamanites was brought about. But in his less glorious and romantic way, he was able to bring about the salvation of just as many souls. And, humbly, he was able to rejoice in the great deeds of his brethren. It may not be the tale to excite the blood of small sword-brandishing boys, but it is beautiful and glorious.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Patient in All Their Sufferings

This has seemed to become a sort of scriptural journal for me. I am deeply enjoying the interaction and comments on my thoughts that have been shared. Thank you all for calling me into check when I begin to depart from doctrine and for supporting me in my attempts to learn. I love this aspect of the internet: that those who would not otherwise have a chance to do so may share thoughts and learning and support each other in coming to Christ.

I have a deep, enduring personal sorrow which I have been struggling with for some time. The specifics are not something I care to share here, but today it was particularly poignant. I prayed more earnestly than I often do that in my reading today I would be led to something that would help me cope. I began reading Alma, chapter 20. In this chapter, the newly converted King Lamoni goes with Ammon to release his fellow missionaries, who have been captured and poorly treated.

Their missionary service up to this time has been starkly different from Ammon's. They had gone among those who, at least in part, came from the priests of Noah. These were a people hardened in rebellion against God, with no room for the Spirit in their hearts. Although Aaron, who was Ammon's brother, had the same experiences with conversion as Ammon and likely the same depth and zeal of Spirit, he was not so successful as Ammon. He had been in prison for a long time, certainly months.

As I read this chapter, I was trying to find the answer to my heart's yearning for peace. I was seeking for it in the encounter with Lamoni's father, likening the participants in the story to certain situations in mine. While I read, I got the feeling that I was stretching the application in order to get what I wanted from the scriptures, so I gave up on it and simply read, feeling my hopes for comfort crumble somewhat. Then, as I read verse 29, the answer and the Spirit sprang at me. I knew that the Lord had answered my pleas once again in the simplest and most beautiful of ways and not in the complicated meanings I was attempting to wrest from the scriptures. The verse lists the many pains, humiliations and discomforts they underwent, and then adds "nevertheless they were patient in all their sufferings."

Just like that, I had the strength to go on a little longer. The Spirit gifted me with the knowledge of what I am to do. It may not be the answer to simply be patient with every affliction that crosses our paths, but it is for this one, for now. The Lord has reassured that our patience will not be without comfort for "I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days." How I love Him! When all else fails me, even myself, He is there—eternally there—waiting to comfort and love me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Why Both Women's Liberation and Male Domination Have it Wrong

I'd write more about this, but Elder Hafen of the Seventy and his wife wrote such an inspired, beautiful article, anything I could say would amount to "what he said!" It is a wonderful explanation of what it means to be equal partners in marriage—that equality comes through mutual submission, not mutual independence.

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