Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Luke 24:4-5 Seeking the Living Among the Dead

As a seeker of truth and enlightenment it is easy to consider the veracity of Jesus as a person who lived and breathed and taught divine truth, to read his words and the stories of his life, seeking to understand his teachings and his way of living as we do the words and lives of other wise and good and inspired figures in history. As Christians we generally give him more credibility due to the divinity that we believe he embodied, therefore giving considerably more weight to what we find in the pages about him and his life than we do to other long ago divinely enlightened individuals whose words and lives we read about. And that is good.

But are we missing something?

"Some of us, when young, were presented with a writing book. At the top it had a line of...writing; below it had blank lines on which we had to copy it. How utterly discouraging were our efforts to reproduce that perfect pattern! But then the teacher would come and, with her hand, would guide our hand over the lines and we got nearer to the ideal. That is what Jesus does. He is not only the pattern and the example. He helps and guides us and strengthens us to follow that pattern and example. He is not simply a model for life; he is a living presence to help us to live.

It may well be that our Christianity has lacked an essential something because we too have been looking for him who is alive among the dead”

~William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, pp.292-293


Friday, September 12, 2014

Love and Accomplishment

"Wanting love is good and wanting to excel is good.  The trouble comes from trying to tie them together.  Pursue love and pursue excellence--pursue them with abandon.  But you will spoil the joy native to each if you spend your life wanting to be loved *because* your are great.

Love is for its own sake.  It works only as a gift, never as a reward.  It can't be earned or bartered or insured.  It is a grace and it is freely given or not given at all.  Uncouple your desire to be loved from your desire to be great.  Pursue love by striving to give it rather than possess it.  Coupling love and ambition fools us into approaching the whole business backwards.  Rather than pursuing love by giving ourselves away, we end up trying to capture love with a new and improved version of ourselves.  This sucks the freedom out of love and the joy out of excellence."

~Adam S. Miller, "Letters to a Young Mormon", p. 13

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Chaff and grain together

“Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
― From "A life for a life" (published in 1859) by Dinah Maria (Mulock) Craik


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Luke 22:20 repentance, forgiveness, sacrament, reconciliation, friendship, atonement

I was thinking today about the process of repentance, which generally consists of coming to understand that there's a better way and learning to love that better way and wanting to live that better way, and loving the author of that better way.  And I was thinking about how discouraging it can feel when you are at the point where you understand the better way and appreciate that better way and are struggling through the process of coming to want to live it more than you want to give in to the allure of the alternative, which also has its attractions.

There's that long part of struggle as your better self seeks to override your indulgent self.  The battle swings back and forth and you are unhappy with your setbacks that inevitably come as that struggle continues. It's easy at that point to feel like a hypocrite approaching God, knowing what you know about your heart's struggles between the earthly and the heavenly.  And it's tempting to fear approaching Him honestly about your mistakes.  I find that at such times I unrealistically hope in my heart of hearts that He has been too busy to notice them, and my  disgust with how long the battle's been going on inclines me to feel like He must be disgusted too.

But the news of the gospel is that God is totally approachable and that admission of failure by a child who honestly wishes she had done better and is willing to keep trying to do so, is welcomed with love.



"This cup is the new covenant made at the price of my blood, which is shed for you."

A covenant is a sacred promise between God and me.  He never breaks his promises.  I, being human, in spite of my efforts, break that new covenant that I made at baptism, consistently, with sin.  And usually it's with a sin that I've committed many times before, in spite of my desires to abandon it.

In Old Testament times the sacrificial traditions were meant to mend that break between God and his children, offering sacrifices to atone for the sins of those offerers, making them feel worthy again to approach God and be welcomed.   God was to be revered, honored and feared, and reviewing one's status with God in the times between sacrifices when the sins would accumulate before expiation had been given was sobering to a God-fearing individual. .

But Jesus' sacrifice was one, over-arching, universal one which "wrought out [the] perfect (complete) atonement through the shedding of his blood" (Doc & Cov 76:69).  And in the verse in Luke he explains that his life and his death is a new sacrifice which signals a new covenant between God and man.

 "'By my life and my death [He says] I have made possible a new relationship [covenant] between you and God.  You are sinners. It is true.  But because I died for you God is no longer your enemy, but your friend.'  ~William Barclay

As I struggle with my own recurring sins I need to move out of the Old Testament way of thinking (okay, once I get these sins better taken care of then I'll feel better about discussing my sins with God) to a New Testament way of thinking (okay, I'm still working on these sins, but my desire and my covenant is to ally myself with Jesus who's atoning sacrifice can be brought to bear in my life now, making God much less scary to approach).

When I approach God on my own my predominant feelings are a sense of failure and a wish that my sins could be unmentioned. Approaching God wrapped in the covering, love-soaked, atoning cloak of a Savior I've covenanted to follow who is God's beloved Son and who pleads the cause of those who seek to do and be good (Doc & Cov 38: 4) is an opportunity to realize that I can be received with compassion by a Father who not only sees all my sins that I struggle with, but also desires, above all, to assist my further alliance with his Son.

I still feel badly about my sins, either way.  Neither path will allow me to ignore them.  And both require that I continue the struggle.  But the latter path is the one Jesus offers us.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Luke 21: 36-37

And in the day time he was teaching in the temple; and at night he went out, and abode in the mount that is called the mount of Olives.
And all the people came early in the morning to him in the temple, for to hear him.

"Jesus spent the day amidst the crowds of the Temple; he spent the night beneath the stars with God. He won his strength to meet the crowds through his quiet time alone; he could face men because he came to men from God's presence." 
~ William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, p. 261

Need to remember to make time to spend nights beneath the stars with Him.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Saints Differ

Recently a decision was made in a stake in my state not to participate in a particular service opportunity. I am not privy to the reasons why, but my best, most understanding guess is that the stake president felt that the nature of the service, though it was compassionate, was too closely related to a topic that is currently warmly debated by the two major political parties, and that, though members of the stake could freely volunteer to serve on their own, having that service sponsored by the stake would create antipathy and division among church members who held opposing political positions. Basically the stake president had a good finger on the spiritual pulse of his stake.
In other words, they, like many of us, had not, as a group, learned the lesson of the people of Ammon and the Nephites.

We often discuss the heroic nature of the “sons of Helaman”, young sons of Ammon's people, who, not bound by their parents' oath of non-violence and full of faith in God, went to war alongside their Nephite brothers to defend their homes and families from annihilation. We don't often stop to consider the geopolitical state of the place where they and the Nephites were living. Basically, there were two groups of people living in proximity under one government there, one group convinced that they should lay down their lives rather than take up weapons to fight, the other, convinced that they had a moral obligation to fight against aggressors.

When the Lamanites began to attack and kill Ammon's people some of them were, naturally, sorely tempted to set aside their moral convictions and religious commitment to non-violence. It would have been easy for their neighbors, the Nephites, to encourage them to do so and to resent their position of non-violence when they were all threatened by the Lamanite armies. And those of Ammon's people who were not inclined to pick up their weapons of war, but were determined to maintain their standard of non-violence could easily have looked down upon the Nephites who chose to fight back, seeing the Nephite belief as less noble or inspired than theirs.

However, remarkably, these two groups, ones we might consider political opposites in their positions when it came to matters of military aggression, did not despise, argue with or contest with each other. Instead of becoming divided by their differing political opinions, they supported each other in their respective rights to act according to their moral positions. The people of Ammon were supportive (and likely also grateful) for the protection of the Nephites who volunteered to fight off the Lamanites who were attacking them. It would have been a natural human response to be, instead, simultaneously dismissive of the Nephites' position that military might is a necessary skill to learn, perfect and use. It would have been easy for them to insist, therefore, that their sons choose non-violent response as well. But they did not. They allowed their sons to make their own choices.   Remarkably, the Nephite position was similarly respectful. They actually encouraged the people of Ammon who had made a sacred commitment to non-violence to maintain that commitment while, at the same time, intending to do whatever was necessary to fight of the Lamanites who sought to destroy them both. They respected the people of Ammon's moral response to a terrifying situation even while they felt a moral responsibility to respond in a way that was directly the opposite.

Here were two politically opposing views in a desperate time, each held by people who understood that they were divinely tied to each other by their faith in God. The result of that understanding was not only eventual victory over the aggressors (at a terrible cost, as is often the case), but even, perhaps more profound, a sense of unity of brotherhood and respect for freedom to respond according to conscience had played out between those two groups and had transcended their widely differing and opposite personal responses to a political crisis. What could have created division, resentment and discord, instead created mutual respect for differing positions and willingness to honestly respect and coordinate with each other's choices of how to respond.

It is interesting to contemplate just how much that amazing phenomenon may have played into the successes in the chapters that followed both during the subsequent war, and also in the peace between them in the years that followed.

I whole heartedly believe that “If ye are not one, ye are not mine”. And I believe that that doesn't mean that we must all see eye to eye or agree on issues. I believe that the story of the people of Ammon and their neighboring Nephites teaches that  we can love and respect each other enough to work respectfully, unitedly and for the common good, each in a way that he or she feels called by God to do, in spite of how different our calls to action may be, or how widely our political and social positions differ.


It is hard to do, but I believe that peaceable, mutual respect in spite of glaring, seemingly insurmountable differences of deeply held opinions about what course of action to personally take is one of the keys to Zion.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Peace

This week, before leaving on her next adventure, B asked me an interesting question which brought up the topic of the period of peace described in 4th Nephi.

We read that
there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift....and there still continued to be peace in the land. And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.”

Here is described a cessation of disputes between neighbors, a sense of common stewardship and sharing, diminishment of class distinctions, no war, and miracles of healing in the name of Christ.

But knowing life, and having an idea of what life was like 2000 years ago, I sense that there was still physical, emotional and mental illness as well as injuries and death. Widows were still left to raise children, parents suffered the loss of a child, children grew up without mothers, spouses still had to learn how to live and communicate and forgive, children still worried their parents who had to learn, in their own ways, how to and not to rear them, political and religious leaders had to figure out how to respond to new dilemmas, crops still sometimes failed or houses burned down, and people still made stupid mistakes that they needed to repair.

Knowing Jesus and embracing his teachings, even in the most cohesive group of disciples, will not, in this life, prevent sorrow, pain, concern, struggles, trials or deep grief.

So, I'd change the Primary song.

There's a right way to live and be peaceful.

The gospel doesn't promise happiness in this life. But it does promise peace. Not the peace we usually think of: no worries, no troubles, no sorrow, no anxiousness. But the kind that Christ promised he would leave with his disciples: the kind that, in the midst of the hardest things, reduces our sense of troubledness and fear.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

I believe He is describing a deep undercurrent that, in spite of waves of staggering grief or frightening danger, or deep frustration that we may also feel, settles in our core and carries us as we walk or stumble or struggle through.

It is choosing God's love everyday.

Moroni's admonition, chapter 7: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him.”

Like Him. Steady. Peaceful. Moving forward. Loving wisely.

For me Moroni's words mean actually praying and specifcally seeking to love both wisely and well the way that Jesus did in our interactions with each individual. It is a lifelong journey. I can't just pray for it in general. I need to also pray for it specifically in regards to specific circumstances, challenges, individuals, groups, locations, times. And when it comes it brings that clarity and calm at the core of my soul as I move forward in those relationships, whether or not my efforts to create goodness are reciprocated. It is peace in spite of the turmoil that may be there. It is vision of the other as God sees him. It is guidance as I figure out how to proceed in a way that loves and helps and serves as He does.

I am learning the teachings of Jesus.

The scriptures. Oh the scriptures. Four whole gospels of watching Him interact. Four whole gospels of his words. And then piles of letters written to people who were struggling through the challenges of trying to figure out how to follow him wisely and well in the midst of all the demands and assumptions of life and culture. And words of prophets trying to explain the glory, joy, equality and power of a divinely lived life and the power and reality of repentance, atonement and the Love of God. Time spent there is important for me on this journey. It is here that I learn the principles by which to live my life and which are at the core of that peace Jesus offers.

They will help me and show me the way...

to find that “peace which passeth all understanding”. I think it's called that because it seems, off the bat, so illogical. Peace that lives on inside not only when circumstances are pleasant, but also lives inside us when we are, at the same time, rocked by waves of grief, fear, worry, loneliness, persecution, frustration, inability, anxiety, loss or want.

I think this was what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Philippians:

...in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”


Thank you, B., for asking the question. We will miss you and J. 

 God, and his peace, be with you both.