Tuesday, December 30, 2008

If Only the Church Would Change

It seems that many people, both members and not, believe the LDS Church should change in order to fit some agenda they have. Whether it is admitting fault in the pre-1978 Priesthood Ban, spending more time with apologetics, changing the wording of temple covenants or giving women the priesthood, there is a long, tired list of changes people believe they should make. The prevailing thought seems to be that if only the Brethren who are called to run the Church understood or were wise/smart/savvy/up-to-date/enlightened/etc. enough, the Church would be different and better. Sometimes it feels like one of those mix-and-match books where you can choose the issue and a deprecating adjective to make a new complaint.

At any rate, I was thinking about this and trying to figure out the root of the problem. I don't think the problem is really the priesthood, the patriarchy, or any of the things people like to complain about. I think the problem goes much deeper. Even were the prophet to snap his fingers and change everything tomorrow, there would still be something for such people to complain about. If homosexuality was accepted, it would be transgender. If women were given the priesthood, it would be that they don't have enough roles in it. A solution cannot be found by the Brethren conforming to popular opinion.

Furthermore, most of these things don't bother me, at least not to the degree they bother some. I wasn't really sure why this is. Some of them used to bother me much more than they do now, but although I never really tried to change my feelings on the issues, my feelings changed on their own. What was the difference?

As I thought about these things this morning, I felt that the root cause of much of these problems is a lack of true faith in God. (Let me establish, I'm making no judgment on individuals with issues, nor am I trying to disparage those issues, I'm just trying to examine the problem in general.) I don't mean a lack of belief that He exists, but a lack of true faith.

I have learned a lot about faith lately. It isn't about believing, it is about trusting. It is about taking that step into the chasm, even though you can't see the bridge under your feet. It is about falling into the chasm and being okay with that, because you know who you are and who God is. It's about standing in front of a furnace hot enough to boil bone and saying, "I know that God can save me, but if He does not, still I will follow Him." It is about saying "I am hurt that women don't have the priesthood. I hope that some day they will have the chance to lead in the Church the way men do, but even if they are eternally less than men in this way, still I will follow God. Still will I submit to His will as now understood through His prophets. Still will I obey." It is about saying "I think the Church was wrong to withhold the priesthood from blacks in the past. But I may be wrong. Either way, my opinion is not important, and my needs are in the hands of my Redeemer to do with as He will."

It is about taking your pain and letting it go.

A lady I know wanted more than anything to have an eternal family. She gave up her dream career, much of her pride and comfort for this dream. All of her effort went into attaining this goal. While pregnant with her fifth child, her husband, well regarded in the church, had an affair. After the baby's birth, he divorced her and moved his new girlfriend into the house they had lived in. Her dream was shattered. And yet, with her righteous desires lying crumbled around her feet, with five children to raise on her own and no hope of ever marrying again, she let go of that dream, turned it over to the Father's hands and simply served her children and the other children of God. I don't know if she is happy, or if she will ever gain her dream in this life. There is no solid doctrine promising her an eternal marriage after her death. But, she has done her best to follow the will of the Lord, and she trusts Him to take care of her needs.

"And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, "What shall we eat?" or, "What shall we drink?" or, "Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" [Or "How will I be healed?" or "When will I be equal?"] . . . . For your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

I am not free from this problem. Because of my recent life challenges, I have wasted too much time wishing things would change to conform to my dreams and thoughts of how things should be. I have "labored much in the Spirit" that I would be able to accept the dissolution of my righteous desires, and learn to let go of my needs and learn true charity for others. I am no different from those who long for the Church to conform to their desires. But I think perhaps the reason neither my life nor the Church will change to fit opinion, or do many of the things wanted of them is because God's people must be a people of faith. If everything in the Church (or my life) was perfect, there would be no reason for faith. And if the Brethren were smart/savvy/inspired/etc. enough to do what was wanted of them, there would be no room for humility and patience . . . or for charity.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I Believe in Revelation

Articles of Faith #9
[I] believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and [I] believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

I have lived much of my life immersed in the concept of revelation, both personal and prophetic. It has become as much a part of my life as breathing, but when looked at objectively it is quite an extraordinary concept. It is amazing and humbling to me to realize that God stands ready to remove ANY and ALL ignorance from my mind, should I ask. I find the process of revelation even more fascinating when reading about Church history. I think it is one of the most misunderstood core principles of the Church.

Many people think that revelation is about Truth, but it isn't—at least, not primarily. I believe revelation is primarily about receiving direction from God. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of Truth, but sometimes it comes in a form that few humans recognize as truth. In our limited, childish perspectives that do not benefit from any memory of our lives before and possess only meager understanding of eternal principles, we like to define Truth in our own image, and fail to remain open to God's revelations. We limit Him to an oversimplified "yes" or "no" by our very unwillingness to acknowledge His superior understanding. Rather than being willing to follow His guidance, whatever it is, we try to force Him into our superstructure of existing knowledge. I think this limits our spiritual gift of revelation.

Revelation is about learning, and can only exist where there is ignorance. If any one person understood all there was to know, there would be no need for God's guidance. The revelation of truth and knowledge would be moot in a place where they already exist. Therefore, revelation is an eternal principle applied only to a mortal sphere. In order to receive revelation from God, one must realize that one is ignorant. If a person has already decided that they understand, that they know the facts of the circumstance, they have closed the door on revelation. In order to remain open to revelation, a person must never say "now I know all" even after an answer is received from God.

To briefly share an example of this in my own life, I had a powerful spiritual prompting to serve a mission when I was fourteen years old. When I was twenty, I received an even more powerful spiritual prompting that I was not to serve a mission. I was twenty-two when I again received revelation on this matter: that it was up to me to serve or not, but to make up my mind myself. Feeling the desire to serve, I did, and was irrevocably changed and infinitely blessed. Was I ever wrong in my promptings? I don't think I was, though I received a vastly different answer each time. In a sense, I was never given a conflicting answer because the person who was answered was a different person each time.

Revelation is about imperfection. We find it difficult to realize that in an imperfect world, God may have to guide us down imperfect paths to achieve His perfect ends. Was it a perfect answer to kill Laban in order to save the souls of the children of Lehi? Was it a perfect answer to eradicate the heathen nations which occupied Israel? Is it a perfect answer to sacrifice His Most Holy Son to our sin?

Not in the sense that we would like to believe in perfection: that everything is fair and just and merciful, also. Sometimes mercy requires injustice, and sometimes God's perfect work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man requires Him to work within our flawed framework. In fact, I would suggest that only by working within a flawed framework can those perfect ends be manifest.

THAT is why we believe in continuing revelation; because we acknowledge that God's commandments may differ when given in different, mortal circumstances. At some time, He may say "kill" when at another, He may ask us to die. At one time, He may ask us to practice one law and revoke it at another time.

To truly believe in continuing revelation, I feel that one must also believe that past "mistakes" in the divine direction of His church (and, I might add, in the divine direction of individual lives) are not mistakes at all, but are simply other commandments for other times and circumstances. And, to acknowledge a need for revelation, one must acknowledge one's own ignorance. After all, revelation cannot exist in the same place as perfect understanding. But without perfect understanding, we have only faith and trust that God will do all He has promised, and that He is indeed directing the growth of His imperfect church members towards His perfect ends.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Seeking the Pearl

Matthew 13: 45-46
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."

I have such a pearl. I was young when I found it, and though it has taken me years (and is still taking me years in many respects), I am selling all I have to attain it. But I never suspected that in seeking after this pearl, I would also have to in some respects, sell my efforts to attain it.

When I first promised to sell all I had for this pearl, I didn't think I had much. Since then, I have gained many things that are precious to me. Some of these treasures turn out to be poisons that I have to cleanse out of my heart—or allow to be cleansed. Some of these things are good, holy, praiseworthy things&mdash things which are nearly if not equally precious as that which I am selling them for. But I have dedicated my heart, and there is no turning back now.

Is there any pearl you would give up everything for? Even if "all you have" is not enough to buy it?

Friday, December 12, 2008

When Spiritual Leaders Aren't

Due to some of the advice in my previous post, I thought it might be appropriate to follow up with a post I've been struggling with for some time. Again, I don't want to disparage or criticize anyone. At the same time, a failure to find appropriate and authoritative spiritual guidance when you need it most is not an uncommon situation. Especially in a Church where ecclesiastical leadership is untrained and uncompensated, and isn't even the primary concern of those who lead, it will come sooner or later that most members find themselves with no official spiritual leadership. What do you do when those who should spiritually lead do not? How do you cope with needing spiritual guidance and not finding it in those with the authority to help? Where do you turn for counsel?

First, I think it is important to understand why the Lord might have instituted a lay priesthood. There doesn't seem to be much clear commentary on the matter, so my thoughts are mostly conjecture based on what I understand of the gospel and priesthood. I feel that, as it is God's will that we should make good choices and come back to Him, the opportunity for all men to participate in priesthood leadership gives them the chance to learn what leadership is. Rather than restricting that learning experience to those who choose it by making it their vocation, He asks that men learn to balance Church, family and personal life, learning to put service as a priority and learning empathy for those they lead. Additionally, they can taste a small measure of divinity when they stand as if they were Christ, intercessors in some way between us and God. In short, it is a chance for them to learn to judge wisely and exercise charity. This principle must work with agency to create some less-than-ideal circumstances. Sometimes, other children of God have to suffer because of the learning process. This doesn't make such leaders bad or wrong, just imperfect. It also gives those without good leadership a chance to learn forgiveness and patience for imperfection.

This is all well and good in thought, but what happens when it comes down to the nitty-gritty and you desperately need spiritual guidance which just isn't there? What happens when you find yourself struggling under the influence of Satan's power and there are no home teachers, no bishopric member, no father or husband or brother to turn to? (As a side note, this may seem to be a uniquely female conundrum, but I'd like to point out that men must also turn to another for spiritual leadership. They cannot do it for themselves.)

There, the beauty of the Gospel truly manifests. Although the Lord has set up the Priesthood to bless the children of Adam and Eve, He has not left us comfortless when we cannot turn to another mortal for such help. He has blessed us with the Spirit of God. This Spirit can not only comfort us, but can call forth His servants to help in times of trouble when one of His children cannot ask for it. I have experienced this in my life multiple times, particularly in the last year or so. Disciples of Christ, thankfully in tune with the Spirit, have come to me and ministered to me when I didn't know how to ask for help. (Many of whom read this blog.) Angels, both mortal and immortal, have surrounded me to bear me up.

However, even in those dark times when I haven't been able to feel or recognize heavenly help, I have been able to cling to the knowledge of my redemption. Gaining a testimony of Christ's Atonement has, at times, been the only lifeline I had. Despite the structure of God's Priesthood, the line between each individual and divinity is unbroken and unbreakable by any other. A lack of mortal spiritual leadership when needed is sometimes only an opportunity to deepen the spiritual bonds between yourself and God. When there is no one else, He is always there.

So, where do you turn for counsel? To Jesus Christ, whose life and death was dedicated to our welfare, who knows us better and more deeply than we know ourselves, whose faithfulness was stronger than Death and Hell. When our faithfulness to Him becomes just as strong, we will be able to ensure that when another of God's children needs spiritual guidance, we will be there, ready to answer the call of the Spirit.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Finding Worship in LDS Services

I was reading Andrew Ainsworth's post on Mormon Matters (worth a read, for certain) and began to feel as if it were indirectly hitting on something that currently lies on my heart. I am addressing this subject because I want help to overcome it, not because I want to vent or complain or disparage anyone involved. I feel it must be a problem in my own heart which I want to resolve, if possible.

I have attended many LDS wards in my life, some of which were vibrantly spiritual. As much as some people ridicule singles' wards (and I had one or two not far from the stereotype) some of my most deeply spiritual in-church experiences were when I was single. In my singles' wards and from what I remember of the many wards I grew up in, Sacrament Meeting would often have a topic like "faith" or "repentance" which was discussed in all the talks that day. Sometimes there would be a combination, such as baptism and the Holy Ghost, but there was almost always some spiritual topic which was addressed.

My current ward is full of good, well-meaning people, and I don't want to disparage them. I have found myself, however, literally starving for spiritual nourishment at Church. I have felt the Spirit through personal scripture study, and when studying to write on topics, or when speaking with individuals or pondering gospel topics. I have occasionally felt the Spirit in Sunday School. I don't think I have felt the Spirit in Sacrament Meeting since coming to this area. Sacrament Meeting talks are composed of 1) Recaps of some activity or project done in the ward, like Girls' Camp, Scout Camp or Daily Dose efforts; 2) Family introductions from new move-ins, who are mostly the children of some established ward family and therefore grew up in the ward; or 3) Young Women's/Primary/thematic "programs" of some sort, like Christmas or Easter, in which stories or articles are read out loud by the speakers.

While I can certainly understand that the Spirit can be present in such sacrament presentations, and I have at times felt the Spirit in my life during such things, I find myself unable to find the communal spiritual nourishment I crave. I have tried. I have fasted and prayed, and pondered and focused, and all the things that one does to try to feel the Spirit. I have heard ward members testify of the Spirit felt in the meetings, which I simply have not felt.

Often, Sunday School and Relief Society meetings are even drier. The teachers generally focus on events and not on the ramifications of those events. History, "weren't their lives hard?", and commonly-recited answers to carefully-pre-posed questions tend to be the flavor. I have tried to comment, to share how things have affected me, to help the teacher bring the Spirit into the lesson, but my efforts, despite being appreciated by some, are largely perceived as hostile or reactionary, and have caused me some amount of trouble, so I have ceased them.

In short, I long for and desire to participate in the community of Christ, but find myself an outsider, and no part of the community I am in. At the same time, my experiences in life are teaching me that becoming frustrated with the lack of spiritual nourishment does nothing to help bring the Spirit to fruition. It seems that the choice is to simply not expect spiritual nourishment in Church, and pray for the Spirit to come somehow and in some way to my life.

Have any of you struggled with this? What have you done to bring the Spirit back into Sunday services?

I am beginning to suspect that part of the problem is my traditional view of worship services. I tend to think of Sunday church as a time to discuss gospel principles, learn from the discussion, and try to apply them to my life during the week. While this can be right, it isn't working for me right now. So, I sat down and tried to really think about how to worship God. He said His work is to "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." To me, it seems that the best way to worship Him would be to help Him in His work. Therefore, I think I am going to try to get to know people in my ward by simply listening to comments, talks, and teaching style, since I no longer comment. I need to stop expecting to be nourished by the Spirit in church, and just listen to other people for a time. Perhaps I can sift through the everyday answers to find someone who needs me. Perhaps I can reach out to just one person.

Perhaps then, I can worship God in His Church even without the slightest grain of gospel discussion or Spiritual nourishment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Misplaced Assumptions in the Marriage Debate . . .

. . . which should be set aside, if gay marriage advocates truly wish to try to change the minds of those who are traditional marriage advocates.

1. An individual has the inherent right to marry whomever they want.
I simply don't believe it. I don't think people should be allowed to marry close family members, for example. Even though there is no rational reason for feeling this way, I just do. Gay marriage advocates would be better off trying to explain why the right to marry the same gender ought to be allowed, beyond a simple "cause we want to".

2. Genetic traits excuse behavior.
There is a plethora of genetic traits that lead to unacceptable behavior. Schizophrenia and other mental disorders come to mind. Advocates would be better off getting away from an appeal of "I can't help it," to explaining why the behavior should be normalized.

3. Animal behavior is a good role model for human behavior.
Animals do a lot of things I don't think humans should do, ranging from eating their own young to rape, not to mention sniffing behinds as a greeting. I would advise refraining from comparing oneself to an animal in this sense. It isn't really a flattering analogy.

4. That any minority desire must be allowed or it is majority tyranny.
Again, I don't believe it. There is a minority of people who believe they have the right to child pornography. That doesn't mean it should be allowed. Whether people like it or not, democracy is by definition a tyranny of the majority. Better that than tyranny of one, such as an absolute monarchy. Rather than whining that it isn't fair, advocates really ought to demonstrate why the minority desire is beneficial to society.

To be fair, some advocates have done this. I'm not writing this post for them, I'm writing it to those who believe that it is worth repeating something loudly and often enough to drown out anything anyone else might say, whether or not it matters.

What I find compelling is a reasonable, measured, calm exposition of why this is beneficial to me, personally, and to society as a whole. Calling me a bigot and hate-filled really doesn't accomplish the goal, unless the goal is to cement me more firmly in my opinion.

Popular Posts