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.

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