Friday, April 14, 2017

On Forgiveness: Two Important Things

Two thoughts on forgiveness this Easter weekend: 
1) We only can forgive those who have hurt us. We have no right to claim we forgive anyone who has not hurt us. That is a mockery of the difficulty of forgiveness for those who actually have suffered. 
2) We are commanded to forgive everyone who has hurt us in any way - but there is nothing in that statement that requires we forget. Those are two different things. Forgiving when we can't forget is a deeper form of forgiveness than when we can forget - and, sometimes, forgetting is neither healthy nor appropriate, since it can feed continued hurt by the unrepentant.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

We Are More than Just Children of a King

A friend of mine said the following today, in reference to common statements about being children of a King: 
When the Israelites in the meridian of time looked for the Messiah they looked for him to come in glory with conquering armies. He came instead as the child of a carpenter born in the most humble of circumstances.  
Are we not children of the Good Shepherd? Are we not children of the Master Healer? Are we not children of the patient teacher? Are we not the children of the "Servant of all"? 
May we follow in those footsteps as well.
Amen - and amen.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Being Nothing without Charity and "Being Worthy": How We Miss the Mark

I interpret the idea that we are nothing without charity as being a refutation of the natural tendency to value things and create measurements that make us feel better than others. So many other things we tend to value highly separate us from others by elevating us above them and making us worth more (or, interestingly, "more worthy"); charity levels the field and truly sets us as equal in worth.

Someone publicly gives away lots of money out of extreme narcicism? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone prophesies constantly but does nothing to give actual help to those who need help? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone gives phenomenal talks in church, full of poetic and inspiring imagery, but is a selfish jerk otherwise? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else. Someone serves their entire adult life in highly visible church callings but looks down on everyone else due to their pride? Fine, they have their reward, but nothing else.

Love as the foundation of all else (the glue holding everything else together) is something I like, so I am okay with statements that say everything else falls apart or crashes to the ground without that foundation. ("on this hang all the law and the prophets")

It helps that I view it as a process, not an event - a pathway, not a destination - an issue of effort, not full accomplishment. It's not that I need to be perfectly charitable right now or I'm worthless, but rather that I value charity above everything else and am trying to be charitable.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Beautiful Explanation of Not Judging Others

A friend of mine shared the following, and I want to share it here. It is one of the most beautiful explanations of the theological reason we should not judge others I have ever heard.
Background: When I was a young child, someone harmed me in a terrible way. To date I have never harbored anger towards this person. Part of that comes from the fact that it never occurred to me to BE angry. Another part is that I can look at this person's life now and see what a sad condition it is in. I pray for this person's safety. I pray for happiness.

Every Psych book says that I should be in counseling. I should be going through 12 steps. I should be in bad shape. Everyone says that I have the right to be angry. I should demand justice. And, I guess in some ways I certainly could seek justice and I could be angry. I'm justified in doing so, right?
But I am not and it isn't even a dilemma on my part. I have forgiven this person.

So, now we think, "Okay, they'll be punished in the hereafter."


But, here is how I picture judgement day (sort of):

Say we are at the bar of judgement, and those whom we have harmed are allowed to come and air grievances. Maybe they can petition the court to punish us. Perhaps we are reminded of those wrongs before our accusers show know, to prepare our case.  Either way, let's say that we can see the court docket, and when we see someone who wronged us, we can show up at the appointed time and ask for justice.

If this scenario is correct, I will not be found pressing charges against the person who harmed me. In fact, I may show up as a character witness to point out the good things and charitable acts that I've witnessed from this person. Maybe I'll not even mention the harm done to me. Of course, this person will have other "crimes" that will be brought up in court, but I won't be an accuser.

Now, when it's my turn at the bar to be judged, I sure hope that the people whom I've harmed choose not to "press charges" against me either.  
So, I guess I see the Savior act in a similar way that He did when the woman taken in adultery was brought before him. He was asked to be a judge in that situation. At some point, He asked the woman where her accusers were. There were none...for that crime.
Maybe He was then an advocate and encouraged her to change her ways.

When our time comes, may we not have accusers either.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Yes, We Are Our Brothers' and Sisters' Keepers

Remember: It was Cain (a murderer) who replied to God, when asked where Abel was, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  
There are hundreds of verses and passages throughout the Bible (and other religious texts) that say, quite explicitly, that we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers in some way and to some extent. 
It is the determination of the way and the extent where there can be reasonable discussion and disagreement. (For Mormons, however, King Benjamin's sermon sets an incredibly high bar for refusal.) For Christians to deny their responsibility to help "keep" God's children (any of them), at all or minimally, however, is a direct denial of the ministry and teachings of Jesus, of Nazareth. 
Quoting Cain in doing so is the height of irony.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Does the Sacrament Prayer Really Say: Not What We Often Teach

[quote="squarepeg"]The Sacrament Prayer says that we will always have His spirit to be with us if we take His name upon us, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. Maybe that's an easy one to write off as impossible since I definitely don't remember Him always. Sometimes I'm just thinking about something else and not of Him, because if I thought of Him all the time, I couldn't focus to help my kids with their math, couldn't get through the grocery checkout, couldn't make phone calls to the health insurance company about confusing bills, etc. And I break commandments all the time, every day, in spite of my best efforts to keep them. I also developed an allergy to wheat and can't take the Sacrament bread at all anymore. But I actually don't know of anyone who can keep the promises we make when we take the Sacrament, so maybe none of us is entitled to the attached blessings, either?[/quote]

Is that really what the prayers say? Are there "ifs" in there? I read it like this (emphasis added):

We usually talk about the Sacrament prayer as an if/then statement. For example, with regard to the bread:

IF we remember Jesus' body - and IF we are willing to take his name upon us - and IF we always remember him - and IF we keep his commandments - THEN we will always have his Spirit to be with us.

However, that is not what the words actually say, in and of themselves.

Here is the prayer in its entirety, with some holding for emphasis:

"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it,

- that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father,
- that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son,
- (that they) always remember him
- and (that they) keep his commandments which he has given them;
- that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

We make NO promises in those words, and neither does the priest. The  priest asks God to bless the bread (or water as the case may be, recognizing the wording is slightly different but essentially the same) to ALL THOSE who partake of it (no worthiness standard implied) that four things we are willing to do and receive will happen: 

1) we eat in remembrance of the body (or blood) of the Son;
2) we are willing to take the name of the Son;
3) we always remember him;
4) we may have the Spirit to be with us.

Again, nowhere do those partaking promise to do anything; rather, the priest asks the Father to bless everyone who partakes with a special blessing because of what they are willing to do - regardless of whether or not they do this even things.

I know that is not the view of the mainstream, but it is a literal interpretation of the words themselves.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Jesus as Advocate and Judge - and We as Advocates Only

We had a wonderful lesson in our High Priests Group, and I want to share one particular insight I had near the end of the lesson:

We talk about Jesus as the Judge, but I like another title better: Advocate with the Father. I like the framing of Jesus representing us at the judgment seat of the Father - being our advocate (defender) for mercy, with the Father being the actual Judge. I like it conceptually, but I also like the practical application that hit me on Sunday.

When we take his name upon us, we are NOT assuming his post-mortal responsibilities, including that of Judge. In fact, we are told explicitly not to judge (with a result that we won't be judged ourselves). Rather, we are accepting a place in his mortal ministry. We are doing for others what he did for them during his life and through his death. We are promising to recognize their inherent value as children of God and advocate for them. We can't do that unless we refrain from judging them, strive to understand them, and look for justifications to defend them.

In our current system, the ONLY conflict is for Bishops, since they are called Judges in Israel. However, even they can start with their responsibility to be Advocates, and then, and only then, move on to acting as Judges. This approach, if understood and followed, would result in judges and judgments that are as merciful, gracious, and loving as possible - based on understanding WHY people did what they did and not just WHAT they did. If this was our default orientation (being an advocate/defender), much of the problem we have with overzealous, Pharisaical, strict exactness and our sometimes exclusive obsession with worthiness would disappear.

I still am working out my full thoughts on this epiphany, but I wanted to share the initial impression with all of you here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

We Can Be "Atoners" in This Life

We talk of an infinite Atonement, but I have seen an example of how powerful a mortal, finite Atonement can be. 

My father's sacrifice for my mother, about which I won't write again here, allowed her to have a peaceful, joyful life despite "limitations" that could have made her life hellish. In a very real way, he laid down (set aside) his potential life and picked up a new life solely for her. In more ways than one, he suffered so she wouldn't have to suffer. We (their children) were blessed in many ways as a result, but he did it because of his deep, unquenchable love for her. 

I honor the concept of divine Atonement, but I think we focus so much on a universal, transcendent Atonement that we overlook the impact we can have when we choose to be "at-one-ers" throughout our lives. 

It is easy to be a divider. Any unprincipled person can be that. It is much harder to be a dedicated uniter and accepter and valuer and uplifter and atoner. 

I try to live my life that way, and the current political situation has made that excruciatingly difficult. I hope I can return to whom I want to be - and, in my interactions with others, be more like my dad was with my mom than any other example I have had in my life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

God Loves His Children Even as They Toddle, Falter, and Fall

We have all seen a toddler learn to walk. He takes a small step and totters. He falls. Do we scold such an attempt? Of course not…

Compared to the perfection of God, we mortals are scarcely more than awkward, faltering toddlers. But our loving Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him… 

I do not believe in a God who would set up rules and commandments only to wait for us to fail so He could punish us. I believe in a Heavenly Father who is loving and caring and who rejoices in our every effort to stand tall and walk toward Him. Even when we stumble, He urges us not to be discouraged—never to give up or flee our allotted field of service - but to take courage, find our faith, and keep trying. 

Pres. Uchtdorf, "Four Titles", April 2013 General Conference

Friday, January 27, 2017

Does God Really Direct Us Down "Wrong Roads" Sometimes?

Elder Holland gave a talk in General Conference a couple of years ago about what he learned when he and his father took a wrong road on the way home late one night. It generated a lot of discussion online about whether or not God really would direct us down wrong roads in our lives. 

My own take is that God allows us to walk "wrong roads" as part and parcel of mortality and our limited understanding (that he doesn't always stop us from walking the ones we are prone to walk), but I personally don't believe he proactively places us on or guides us to roads that truly are wrong for us. Thus, I don't believe he gives us incorrect answers to our prayers. I might be wrong, but that's how I see it. It just fits my own belief in the nature of God better.

Having said that, it makes perfect sense for someone who sees God as more of an interventionist God than I do - and it can be the only thing that would make sense for some people who thought they received answers to prayers that they followed into situations that caused pain and felt wrong to them. I also am completely open to the idea that God will do that for some people who need to learn from mistakes but won't choose them on their own - those, for example, who mare more inclined to put their head down and live a Law of Moses life, letting others tell them exactly what to so. I can see God directing them off that path in order to get them to the right one, even if that means they walk a hard road to get there.

However, I do believe that God opens doors to us at times and arranges opportunities that we can take or not take. That's how I see my own life, since I can't deny the incredible ways that the path of my life appears to be "directed" in various ways. There have been a couple of moments/periods in my life that I only understand in hindsight as what was necessary to get me to the next place my family needed to be, so, in that sense, I can understand the idea of being on a "wrong path" to get to the "right path" - even though I wouldn't phrase it that way.

I recently have come to phrase those experiences as being on the right track but the wrong train - or, perhaps more accurately, being on the only train at that particular time that would take me to the point on the track where I could catch the next "right train" for that particular time - usually with the core purpose being someone in my family or a personal connection, rather than a professional reason. In that light, I can see my life as a serious of trains connecting me to multiple tracks that made our overall destinations possible to reach - but I had to disembark from each train and climb on a new one each time to get where my family needed to be at each juncture in our life.