Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Gift to be Healed

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Believe in the Holy Scriptures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Honest Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Daniel Bedingfield, "Honest Questions"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Discussion of Hate

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

Michelle Obama and the Price of a Loss of Religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Maverick of the (Sanity) Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Believe in Gifts of the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Winning is Such Sweet Sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, that is often the lot of mortality.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Voting for the Mob

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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