Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So Calm and Collected

Generally, we wander around in a state of unilateral self-perception, but every once in a while you get a glimpse into how other people see you. Last Sunday, the Relief Society teacher asked for stories of when someone was there for us when we needed them. This has only really happened once in my life, as I generally make a point of independence. When I shared it, I blinked back the tears (the real feminine curse!) to see a look of mild shock on her face. "You are always so self-possessed, so calm and collected. It goes to show how important it is for us to be there for the one in the crowd. . . ." and she turned the lesson back to the topic.

I was rather confused. My life has been in a state of mild to severe chaos since moving into this ward. I have felt anything but calm and collected. I thought for sure my distress was embarrassingly evident. Although I see myself as a consummate actress on the stage of life, I thought my persona had completely shattered along with my life's dreams not so long ago. Apparently, I was wrong.

I mention this not solely for the purpose of public self-reflection, but also to show how vital it is to develop empathy. I have always been hyper-aware of others' feelings, almost to the point of catatonia when I have upset someone. (Hence the great acting abilities. I learned to carry on the semblance of normal life when I'm panicking inside.) Almost in defense, I have become quite the opposite—a person unable to show my concern or to comfort those in need of comfort. I feel awkward and inept when faced with the need to empathize, precisely because I feel too much.

Despite being so unskilled, I know it is vital for me to use this gift of the Spirit. I need to open myself to fear, pain and panic in order to make of myself a place where the beloved of the Lord might dwell in safety. This, I believe, is the core of the gospel. This is what it all means.

Christ suffered unimaginable pain to give us comfort. He has been my haven countless times, when there was no one else to turn to. It is the least we can do to emulate Him as much as we are able. All things in the gospel point to this. When we do missionary work, we must do it through embarrassment and pain because we love and wish to bless. When we go to Church, we do it to bless despite the possible discomfort of not feeling that sense of belonging. When we struggle with certain aspects of policy and doctrine, we turn our fears and hearts to the Lord, despite the terror this action may inspire. Faith in Christ, hope, repentance, sharing the Gospel, temple work, paying tithing, obeying the word of wisdom, all aspects of the Gospel must be centered around this charity.

Perhaps, when we learn this great lesson, we will be opened to the further light and knowledge we long for. Perhaps we shall be able to understand the power in the Priesthood. Perhaps we shall be like Him. And, perhaps, we will be able to see through the veneer of self-possession on others, and see clearly to their hearts.

And, then, we can be there for them when they need us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Voting for the Kingmen

In reading the latest Gospel Doctrine lessons, I feel that I better understand how to vote and how to discern what to vote for. I think that many LDS members would vote differently, if they shone the light of the "war chapters" in Alma on current matters. Some interesting contrasts and parallels are drawn between the "good guys" (the freemen) and the "bad guys" (the kingmen) in these chapters.

Change the law to support a kingMaintain a government which protects religious freedomsBoth believe they are maintaining the right to govern
Refuse to defend countryWilling to defend country, but take no pleasure in itBoth profess to desire peace
Seek for power and authorityEnforce defense of country only when granted by the voice of the people.Willing to take up arms to fight for what they wanted
Contentious, proud, stubbornCourageous, sober, kept commandments of GodBoth believe they are in the right

These points are found from Alma 51 through the end of the book of Alma. There are other comparisons, but these are the thrust of my thoughts at the moment. I think when we look at who or what to vote for, we should keep these things in mind. Particularly, I find Ammoron's epistle in Alma 54 intriguing. He takes a stand of disingenuous innocence, claiming to be only defending his rights. Yet Moroni, knowing Ammoron, knows that he is not really in it to defend his rights, but to attack the Nephites in a bid for power. I feel there are political conflicts today where some may claim innocence, claim that they are only seeking for their own rights. Although some of those down the line may truly believe in the righteousness of their stance, those who began it and are heading it are fully cognizant of their fraud. They know they only desire power at the cost of the rights of others. It is up to us to pray for discernment: to see the cause which is defended by those truly defending those rights, liberties and freedoms which lead to eternal happiness and to God.

Pessimistic as I am, I believe there are few real defenders of righteousness in politics today. I have had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with a few who do. I wish more political candidates would take the time to cease posturing in front of the masses, and sit down in smaller groups to speak as frankly and honestly as they can. Some of those few I have spoken to have my voting loyalty, because I feel they will do their best to fight for the right causes when I cannot even know those causes are on the table, no matter what color party shirt they happen to wear.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sin and Suicide: the Message We Should Be Sending

I feel as though I'm belaboring a point, but Carol Lynn Pearson's recent opinion essay in the newspaper helped me realize that I should expand on a topic I mentioned in my previous post on Proposition 8. One of the most common concerns with the Church's stance on marriage is that those who self-identify as gay are more prone to suicide because of it. I don't believe this is true. I feel that a more accurate statement would be to say that those who self-identify as gay are more prone to it because of the way they are treated.

In my experience, suicide is often more about being isolated than it is about being different. Those who can be different but still participate in a social network are not (in my experience) the ones who suicide (barring some other, more physiological reason.) I also feel, however, that Carol Lynn Pearson's approach to helping our gay friends and family feel accepted isn't the best way. It seems that she would have people compromise their moral beliefs in order to accept people for who they are. I think it is possible to accept a person without that compromise.

As a disclaimer, I'm writing this from a base assumption that homosexual acts are sins, and that the situation includes someone who has gone beyond mere homosexual attraction. We have been admonished to forgive all men their trespasses, and that should we fail to do so, we stand condemned of greater sin. This includes homosexuality. Should we revile or shun a person because they are homosexual, we are sinning greater than they. Whether or not the Lord forgives them is up to the Lord, the person, and those priesthood wielders with stewardship over that person.

That being said, I want to reiterate that forgiveness of a person includes loving and accepting that person as a child of God. It does not have to accept their behavior, should they be preaching their ways as the right ways. There is a line between a sinner and an antiChrist. We are all sinners, but if we should begin preaching our sins as righteousness, we cross that line.

Christ demonstrated this love of a sinner when He forgave the woman taken in adultery. At the time, adultery was punishable by death. Christ taught that we are all sinners, and have no right to judge another. His defense of the woman, however, did not mean that He condoned her behavior. His "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more," perfectly demonstrated the blend of forgiveness of a person without tolerance of a sin. The woman at the well, the parable of the Samaritan, Christ's supping with publicans and sinners all demonstrate how we should behave towards those whose sins we see.

While those who do not understand homosexuality must mold their actions more perfectly after Christ, so should those who are sympathetic to homosexuality realize that much of the fear comes from ignorance. Many people have neither met nor befriended people with same-sex-attraction. If they have, they have not been gently and lovingly taught or educated about the subject. So often, bigotry is a symptom of ignorance. This is where Sister Pearson's works can help. But if you ask people to accept something they feel is harmful, you only widen the divide. Plead, therefore, for understanding, not for acceptance. Acceptance of a person's self will come with understanding, even if acceptance of a behavior never comes. Christ loved everyone, even if He did not love their behavior. He even lovingly taught the Pharisees. Many did not listen, but some did. As you seek to educate those who do not understand, remember that most have good hearts and would not wish to cause extra pain to anyone. We are all children, here, trying to work out our salvation together.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


As the product of a military family, I have what I have come to understand as a peculiar outlook on friendship. To me, friendship is special, something that describes a particular bonding of souls that cannot be broken by imperfection or time. A true friend is someone who accepts you for you, but drives you to be better. After decades of time apart, they are still excited to see you. My outlook is good and bad, depending on how you look at it. Not in the too far distant past it has essentially lost friends who don't think I care enough to keep contact. I don't know how to be any different, though. I hope time can teach me to keep contact better.

Friendship is mentioned in a special way in three different books of scripture when Christ calls certain people his friends. In John, Jesus says the disciples are His friends because He has chosen them and because they have done what He has commanded them to do. This is different than the common equal-to-equal friendship we are used to talking about, but Jesus says it is not simply a master-servant status because He explains His actions to us. So, even though we are clearly Christ's inferiors, we can still be His friends.

Exodus shows that Jesus will speak to His friends as we now speak with our mortal friends. A friendship between us and Christ means we can speak with Him, and walk with Him as so many prophets before have done. In D&C it says that those who are His apostles are His friends, but I would like to think this does not have to be limited to those sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. I think every one of us could cultivate our friendship with deity to this level, if we wished and if we were willing to do the Lord's commandments, even if it does not approach this level in this life.

How I would love to walk with God and have Him call me friend! I know that it may never come to pass in my small life. There is no real need for Him to part the veil for me. I have no calling to stand as a special witness, nor do I believe I ever will. That is a calling for others. However, if it is possible, I hope it will happen anyways. I miss Him. I want to be someone who could be His friend.

Over the course of my uprooted life, I have built a small group of people I still consider friends, many of whom I have lost contact with. I imagine that one day we shall all gather together and share our lives with tears and laughter. Until that day I will try to gather as many more as possible. Hopefully, Christ will be among that number—or, rather, I will be among His.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Best Word on Homosexual Marriage

As I'm sure most of you know, the Church has written an explanation for their stance against legalization of gay marriage: The Divine Institution of Marriage. The interesting thing to me is that most of these points were things I have begun to feel myself, the more I ponder out the question for myself. To me, that is a reaffirmation that the Spirit is able to teach me in a vacuum of direct command. I still appreciate the explanation when it comes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Proposition 8: Into the Fire

I dislike this topic, mostly because I know that no matter what I say, people will be offended. There is really no way to talk about the topic of homosexuality without causing a fight. Luckily, I'm a very small blog in a very small corner, so I doubt there will be too much contention. All the same, I feel compelled to share some of my thoughts on the topic. My opinions here and anywhere on my blog in no way represent the stance of the Church or opinions of her leaders. They only reflect my own thoughts as I struggle to reconcile the points made.

Tax-free Status
The first thing I'd like to address is the argument that the Church has no place encouraging its members to support Proposition 8. From what I understand, based on IRS documentation (warning: this link opens a PDF), the Church is within its legal rights to conduct limited lobbying without losing its tax-free status. Also, I've heard a variation on this argument that claims a Church has no right to tell anyone how to behave, especially those who are not members of its organization. Obviously, under free speech, any organization can say anything so long as it's not threatening or damaging, with the exception of a tax-free organization not being allowed to tell people to vote for a specific candidate without losing status. Since Proposition 8 is non-partisan, it's a non-issue according to my understanding.

Another complaint I've heard is that the LDS Church is hypocritical when it opposes same-sex marriage because it practiced (and still practices in a sense) polygamy. (Since this argument really has little to do with homosexuality, it is only an attack on the character of the Church. Since it is often quoted, however, I will still discuss it.) These complaints generally misquote The Family: A Proclamation to the World by claiming the Church has stated that marriage is between one man and one woman. They say they contradict themselves in the doctrine of polygamy. There are two fallacies to this complaint.

First, the Proclamation says that marriage is between a man and a woman, not one man and one woman. The statement is misquoted to begin with.

Second, even if the statement did say what some claim it says, their interpretation shows a different understanding of polygamy than what I have understood. Although a man may marry multiple women, each of those marriages is complete and whole in and of itself. There is no eternal covenant between the women. Nothing that happens between the man and one wife affects the eternal marriage between him and another wife. It is not one large marriage, but a series of several marriages, each between one man and one woman.

Blacks & the Priesthood
This common comment states that because the Church was wrong about blacks holding the priesthood, they'll be wrong about same-gender marriage. Besides the obvious logical fallacy, it assumes that the Church was wrong. I don't believe they were, in the sense that the leaders should have behaved any way other than the way they did. I believe that God's purposes were fulfilled in the timing as well as the reality of the bestowal of the priesthood. Priesthood exclusivity has precedent in scripture. Not until modern days has it been extended to all worthy male members. (This is partially why it does not trouble me that women do not hold the priesthood.) Additionally, I believe that the perfect God I believe in can work with our imperfection. He knows our thoughts, and He knew the thoughts and intents of the hearts of the men who He called to lead His Church. He called them anyways. Therefore, I can only believe that for whatever reason, whether it be to teach and instruct or for some other reason, He wanted things to happen the way they happened. I trust that those leaders were doing the best they could to follow the Lord. That is why they were chosen and anointed to serve in His kingdom at the time and in the place they were.

Gays Were Born That Way
This argument claims that gays were born with homosexual urges. Because these desires are genetically influenced, they should be encouraged to act according to those desires. I cannot swallow this argument because I was born with genetically-demonstrated depression and anger. I have spent my entire life carving myself away from these tendencies, and allowing the Lord to prune them away. Not everything we are born with is good. Some are born with homicidal tendencies. Some are born with attraction to children, or other psychoses. I don't believe that this fact means that society has to allow them that behavior.

Paired with this argument is the nature argument, which says that Bonobos and other species demonstrate homosexuality in nature. Because it is natural, it should be allowed and even encouraged. Again, I fail to swallow this argument. There are many behaviors in the animal kingdom which I do not feel humans should emulate. (Warning: the two previous links may be disturbing to some.)

Also comes the argument that fighting against same-sex marriage violates the agency of those who wish to indulge in homosexuality. Obviously, no one's agency is being violated any more than it violates the agency of a mass murderer to be thrown in prison. This stems from a common desire to equate agency with lack of consequence.

Similar to this is the claim that fighting against same-sex marriage adds to suicide rates among LDS members with same-gender attraction. I happen to know by my own experience that suicide is a choice, and falls under the laws of agency. Fortunately, I don't have to judge how capable a person is to make the decision or how accountable they are. Although I do believe there are things that can be done to help someone contemplating suicide, in the end the act itself is only between the person and God.

Opposition is UnChristlike
Again, if a person truly believes that same-sex marriage is wrong, and that acting on same-sex attraction will harm the participants as well as those around them, they have a moral obligation to speak out against it. This obligation does not eradicate the obligation to love as Christ has loved. This is one of the delicate balances found so often in the Gospel. Those who have failed this have failed to be Christlike, indeed, but it is possible to love gays and oppose their behavior. I would imagine anyone with parents, siblings, or children who have hurt themselves by their own actions can understand this.

Reproduction (added from below conversation)
I have often heard the lack of homosexual reproduction compared to heterosexual couples who are infertile or too old to procreate. I feel that is also a logical fallacy. You cannot compare the rule of one instance to the exception of another. That infertile heterosexual couples exist is undeniable, but the general rule is that heterosexual couples can reproduce while homosexual ones cannot without going outside of the bonds of marriage (or resorting to sterile fertilization.) If a heterosexual couple cannot reproduce, it is because they are different from the norm. Any actions taken to help such a couple reproduce are attempts to align them with the common situation. The reasoning that homosexual couples are no different from heterosexual couples who do not or can not reproduce is therefore fallacious.

At any rate, these are the thoughts I have had so far. I would welcome courteous comments on them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Alma 41 and the Wiccan Rede

There is much to be said for almost any religion, as it seeks to guide and direct the morality of a people. Without morality, there is no society, and one of the basic laws of nature is that when there is no society, there is no survival. One definitely misunderstood religion to which I have been drawn in the past was Wicca. Although there is much silliness and drama within the stereotypical Wiccan culture (much like the Mormon one) the root teachings of Wicca deal with harmony and equity. Wicca teaches unity with the world, and to always be aware of how your actions affect others. Although Wicca is relatively unstructured, having no form of central government, the Wiccan Rede is a loose law that governs the actions of a faithful Wiccan. Although the rhyme may distract from the message, and there is much that involves the rituals and rhythms of Wicca, it ends with a clear summary: "An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will."

Wiccan tradition holds that for every action you do, it will be returned to you threefold. I was reminded of this tenet when reading Alma 41. In it, Alma is explaining the law of restoration to his son. Two parts in particular are echoed by the wiccan law. The first, in verse 7 states that we are our own judges. Many have interpreted this to mean that we will be the ones we answer to, at the judgment day, but I read it a little differently. I feel that we judge ourselves by our daily actions. If we choose laziness, we are judging ourselves lazy. If we choose sacrifice, we are judging ourselves disciples of Christ. I find it difficult to understand how a person could choose anything but goodness and light, but it is not simply saying "I desire good." It is actually DESIRING it, being drawn to it and molding oneself to it. It is requesting goodness of God, pleading with Him to guide your actions. Desire is not expressed by the tongue, or even the mind. It is expressed by action. That is why one cannot simply say "I am saved!" and have that be the end of it. A person commencing on the path of discipleship must demonstrate their saved state. That is where faith and works combine. Therefore, we judge ourselves by the actions we take, not by some arbitrary word.

The second point of interest is in verse 15. "For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored. . . ." If you take away the numbers, this is the rule of three in Wiccan paradigm. It is also known as the golden rule in Christianity, and the parallels should be of no surprise, since similar Ethics of Reciprocity are found in most religions, though they may be emphasized differently. It is a basic tenet on which society must stand. When we forget, our society begins to decay. When we become so wrapped up in personal agendas, we no longer concern ourselves for others, we lose what holds us together. It brings a different perspective to topics such as legalized gay marriage and abortion. It may not change all actions, but it certainly brings compassion to our motivations and caution to our actions. Were it remembered, American politics would be far different.

Although I appreciate Wicca and once considered that spiritual route, I personally find that it leaves the story untold. It speaks of doing one's will, so long as it harms no one, but it does not urge strongly towards doing active good, and places far too much emphasis on one's self. I find that lack of harm is not enough. Additionally, much like the laws of nature, it holds no mercy for those who make mistakes. One must always pay for one's own mistakes. Having learned much about the power of bonds between people, I find the law of Intercession much more powerful and compelling. I find real strength in gratitude and in humility which is not found in Wicca. Also, underscoring Wicca is magick, which seeks to impose one's will on one's surroundings. I have found that submission of will to a perfect being is more rewarding than seeking to change the world to fit my view of it. I could not accept Wicca because it teaches no reliance on a Savior, and I have learned for myself that Christ is truly the Great and Last Sacrifice, in which all power and all life lie. In His service, I am blessed far more than I could ever be otherwise. Merry part and blessed be.

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