Sunday, April 17, 2016

"He went about doing good"

"He went about doing good". Acts 10:38
He "went about".
One thing that prevents me from doing this as well as I would like in any new environment is too much self-awareness and/or a cognizance of my irreparable lack of required skills. I continue to proximate such a  "going about doing good" life as best I can in new situations, and I can orient myself to God's love and talk myself up a few minutes ahead of time  to make it so that it looks, to others, like going about doing good with love comes somewhat easily to me, but in the small daily efforts of interaction with others with whom I am not intimately acquainted, it takes far more effort than I think it should at this stage of my life. I'd really like to not have to keep beating down these hurdles EVERY SINGLE TIME .
I'd like to be transformed in one fell swoop and have it be permanent.
But maybe that's the easy way out.

In the meantime I'll try to remember, more often, to have the courage and faith start my day honestly praying for the pure love of Christ when I feel like I'd really rather just stay and work at home.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The first truth

My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life.
Jeffrey Holland, "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You"

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Unto" doesn't always mean what you think it means.

Because repentance includes the covenant to obey the commandments of the Lord, it is tied closely to baptism in water as the public evidence or witness of that covenant. Thus baptism in water is the appropriate sequel to repentance. This is the sense of the puzzling phrase, introduced to Alma by the Lord in answer to his prayer about dealing with transgressors in the church and repeated on numerous later occasions by both Alma and Mormon, that people should be "baptized unto repentance" (Mosiah 26:22). This phrasing can be confusing when we expect repentance to precede baptism, and the preposition unto seems to indicate that baptism precedes repentance. But the Oxford English Dictionary. which gives the most complete historical analysis of the varieties of English usage, lists 29 distinguishable uses for this preposition. The one which corresponds with the Lord's usage here would indicate that baptisms into the church should only occur in accordance, agreement, or correspondence with the prior repentance of the new member. Because the covenant witnessed in baptism is part of repentance. This relationship is signaled exactly by the phrase baptized unto repentance. And so, Alma asks his new converts, "what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments?" (Mosiah 18:10). On the other side of this same story, King Limhi and his people repented and "entered into a covenant with God ... to serve him and keep his commandments" (Mosiah 21 :32). Furthermore, "they were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts,"  

Noel Reynolds, "The True Points of My Doctrine", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 5/2, 1996

Interesting to me that the word "unto" in the temple is translated, in the Spanish version, to "para con", which is a formal, little used phrase which means "that corresponds to, in connection with, related specifically to, in relationship to".

I think the Spanish language translation got it right.

I think we English speakers, when we encounter the also-puzzling phrase in the temple with "unto" in it, generally leap to one of the other 28 definitions, which are less accurate, and some of which can cause serious dismay if they are assumed to be correct.

Perhaps someday someone will notice that and make a change to that awkward phrase to make the meaning in English more clear.  I hope so.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Jetsetting, Learning, Choosing

Usually,  when a mission president is called, he and his wife start, in January, a series of 6 discussions with other newly called individuals and a couple of people from the church's missionary department and various resource people.  Each discussion is three weeks apart, with lots of reading material and things to do in between them.

We started those in January, hooked up via a web video feed with 7 other couples in the Philippines, Japan and Arizona.  They were helpful.

Somewhere in there someone realized something that we had been wondering about: that our assignment will start in March instead of in July, and that when we started we would have only been able to participate in two of these sessions.  So a crash course was put together by some very good people and L. and I flew to Salt Lake City to spend 4 packed-full days doing the next 4 sessions of discussion and reading and meeting with resource people and working with young missionaries.  It was extremely helpful and the two who took on the task of coordinating the whole thing and with whom we spent the most time were delightful, insightful people.

(And we were able to spend some time with Sam and Susan and their families on our last evening there too, which was great.)

The general plan was that we would return to Hanoi on Friday morning, arriving on Saturday evening, in time to be there to prepare for previously scheduled visits by Gary Stevenson, Gerritt Gong and others mid-week, the government and member meetings involved with that, and that L. would be set apart during that time as well. (I figured that since mission presidents' wives are set apart as full time missionaries, which I am already set apart to be, I was already set in that department.)

But things change.  Enter Felix,

whose entrance into the world we were alerted to as being imminent on Thursday and who was born in Seoul on Saturday morning.

I had been praying for his safe arrival at the best time and really, the timing was perfect both for him (full term) and for us, since we were routed through Seoul on Saturday evening on our way home, and six months previously I had gotten sure permission to leave the mission to be there to help Elizabeth.  (Generally moms on missions aren't there for grandchildren births because, generally, there are sisters, aunts, mothers-in-law etc. who live near enough that they can travel to be there to help, but in this case there is not.)

It was also a choices challenge, however.  Turns out that mission presidents' wives need to be set apart too, even if they are already full-time missionaries.  And it needs to happen when their husbands are set apart.  And if I wasn't in Hanoi when Gary Stevenson was (he's the one who needed to do that setting apart, and the general March start date had been chosen because it could be coordinated with his scheduled visit), that created a new challenge.

Good, better, best.  It was clear to me what the best choice was.  But it was hard knowing that making that choice would complicate other people's plans, including some other dearly beloved individuals, not just the aforementioned Stevenson and Gong.  I hate making things more complicated for people.  My initial instinct is to try to disrupt things as little as possible.

Sometimes when you make a correct choice, it is not the one that makes things easier for all the people you want to help.  Sometimes it is, but not always.

L., of course, was completely supportive of whatever I chose to do.  Dear fellow, he had the unenviable position of needing to be the point of communication between us and our anticipated visitors without being the one who was making my decisions.

So now I am in Seoul, and L. is in Hanoi. 

More than half a century ago, in 1946, Jean Wunderlich and his wife Jane Burlingame Wunderlich were called to the West German mission.  While setting him apart, David O. McKay said to Brother Wunderlich, "Be true to the law of your own being."

Jean later said that the words of that commandment were the most important words he ever heard. 

To me that is a call to integrity, to make decisions based upon what you feel called to do by God and which are based upon the principles that are most important to you.

That is a good lesson with which to start the work we will commence next month.

For more information on the Wunderlichs' story:

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and rely upon his God."

10. Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on their God.
11. Behold, all you that kindle a fire, that encircle yourselves with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled. This shall you have of my hand; you shall lie down in sorrow.
Isaiah 50:10-11  

Matthew Henry was a Presbyterian minister (1662-1714) born in Wales.

His comments on this passage:

Those that truly fear God, obey the voice of Christ. A sincere servant of God may for a long time be without views of eternal happiness. What is likely to be an effectual cure in this sad case? Let him trust in the name of the Lord; and let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. 
Let him trust in Christ, trust in that name of his, The Lord our Righteousness; stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.
Presuming sinners are warned not to trust in themselves. Their own merit and sufficiency are light and heat to them. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived, and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they  last, seek to warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with bitterness in the end. A godly man's way may be dark, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. 

It seems that Isaiah understands something that we sometimes forget; that following God does not necessarily mean that we should expect to feel that we are walking in light while we do so.  Sometimes following God feels like walking in darkness.  The whole chapter is written from a perspective of "this discipleship is hard" and "the Lord will not abandon me" and "this will take true grit to get through."  Which is understandable, given what we know about Isaiah and his circumstances.

The warning in verse 11 is a warning against manufacturing a substitute light (be that a belief, or a method of feeling validated, or a way of measuring, or whatever) which we may make on our own, trying to beat back the darkness and gain a sense of progress.  The light we or others create in such situations may feel like it is making our path easier to see or more positive, but Isaiah's pretty sure that living by such light will, eventually, lead to more sorrow than joy.

What is interesting to me is that, in the version in Isaiah, the warning seems to be aimed at those who do not fear the Lord and obey his servant, which might make a believer feel smug and safe. Certainly, Matthew Henry switches pronouns, using the pronouns "they" and "them" when he talks about those "presuming sinners" addressed in verse 11.

However, in the version in 2nd Nephi (chapter 7), those verses are worded so that verse 10 makes it so that verse 11 is clearly aimed at those who do fear the Lord and obey his servant. 

"Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light...that compass yourselves with sparks..which ye have kindled"    

It's not "them", it's "us", the ones who do fear the Lord and are trying to obey his servants, that the warning to not self-manufacture light amidst the darkness we experience is aimed at. And considering that the rest of that chapter talks about how tough and daunting discipleship can be, that makes some pretty good sense to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lehi, Opposites, and Nihilism, 2 Nephi 2: 1-13

It occurred to me, while reading 2 Ne. 2: 1-13, that "opposition" here does not mean conflict between good and evil as much as it means "the existence of opposites" and the existence of meaning in reality at large.

I think this part of Lehi's instruction to Jacob is not a discussion of "how God set up the world" but, rather, a discourse on the very nature of reality, and, in  sum, how that relates to the reality of God.

Lehi's "God ceases to be God" and if "God is not then we are not" statement there reminded me of Nihilism.  It's been ages since I've read nihilistic literature, so I did a quick review and discovered that there are varieties of it.

So, in more modern philosophical jargon, this discourse of Lehi's would well fit into a discussion on the philosophies of  Nihilist Romanticism and Metaphysical Nihilism and how the adoption of those philosophies affect a person's life experience and disbelief in the idea or existence of God.

(Lehi does not address Fundamental Nihilism, but then  Nietzsche  pointed out Fundamental Nihilism's inherent inconsistencies that make it pretty impossible for anyone to put it into actual practice, so I'm not surprised.)

For further elucidation on the subject of Nihilist Romanticism, Metaphysical Nihilism, Nihilism as a form of religion and other variations on the theme, try this post written by a self-defined ethical skeptic.  (To find out what an ethical skeptic is, read through the contents of the right sidebar on the site--pretty interesting.)  And see if 2 Ne. seems to be related to that to you too.

Saturday, January 09, 2016


So today I read a 100 hour board query in which the questioner said about a decision to get drunk recently:

"It was somewhat impulsive but also not, because I did think about it and chose to do it anyways. ... I obviously feel guilty, but probably not as guilty as I should because I want to do it again. It felt good to do something "wrong," since I've been this rule follower my whole life. Not that it's an excuse for me breaking the word of wisdom. I will probably drink more because I honestly feel like I need to get this urge out of my system. ... I still believe in the church and I know it's true. Honestly. but I couldn't fight the urge to drink anymore. Doesn't help that I liked it, either. Such a confusing feeling right now."

The questioner's main question was about how that would affect his standing in the church, but that's not what I was interested in when I read the question.  What struck me was his relationship with the principle of obedience.

"It felt good to do something wrong."  

"I've been this rule follower my whole life."  

Obedience is such a tricky principle.  It can prevent a lot of sorrow and regret by preventing us from doing things that bring sorrow and regret.  But, at the same time, it can become poison when we make it the virtue we live and identify ourselves with.  

Obedience for the sake of obedience is simply conscious, determined self-control for the sake of self-control.   The virtue goes out of a virtue when it becomes a source of self-identity or pride or a way of being able to see oneself as acceptable.  And when a virtue loses the qualities that make it virtuous, and instead, ever so unconsciously to us, it becomes an idol or a standard that we worship as we proximate it's outward characteristics in our actions, it becomes a prison rather than a liberation. 

A virtue lived and loved because of a comprehension of an understanding of the divine nature of that virtue and a deep respect and gratitude for the light and love and peace that comes from incorporating that virtue into your life will free you.  

A virtue lived and loved because it makes you feel competent, "good" or admirable, and which is maintained by sheer will-power or by the desire for respect from others will eventually feel like a strangle hold.

Some respond to that sense of strangling by abandoning that virtue.   And then they are confused by the fact that they enjoyed that abandonment.  Not having learned the light, love and peace that comes from living a virtue, but only understanding the sense of mastery or self-worth or pride that may come by living the outward patterns of it, they are confused.  They are confused by the fact that feeling less strangled feels good.  Isn't this virtue they've been practicing supposed to feel better than abandoning it?

"Honestly. but I couldn't fight the urge to drink anymore. Doesn't help that I liked it, either. Such a confusing feeling right now."

The truth is, if my embracing of a virtue is simply a deliberate, determined, self-focused practice of self-mastery, then yes, abandonment of it will likely feel like a liberation.

Others will respond to that sense of strangling, not by abandoning, but by denigrating others who they think do not live that virtue, thereby propping up the sense of being worthy of the self-respect or respect of others that they so desire as they try to focus on that in order to mask their sense of restriction. You probably know people who do that too.

And then this:
I still believe in the church and I know it's true.

But spiritual confirmation of a question posed is not what brings light and freedom.  Just obeying for the sake of obedience doesn't either.  Neither does alms-giving for the sake of giving alms, or testifying for the sake of testifying, or any number of freely given spiritual gifts, practiced for the sake of practicing them.  

It reminds me of the parenting mantra that L. and I learned
"The purpose of the task is to strengthen the relationship."

Loving relationships are, ultimately, what make life most worthwhile, free, and light-filled.  

So, the purpose of living virtues is not to make us have the self-control or sense of positive self-identity involved in living a virtuous life.  The purpose of living virtues is to strengthen our relationship.

The relationship with whom?

I have found that if you wish to find freedom, light and peace in virtues, you will need to establish a relationship of love, understanding and communication with the source of those virtues, however you understand that source. 

It seems that simply living by the standards of a virtue while focusing on the virtue and yourself, instead of your relationship with the source, will likely hinder you, usually in ways that you will sense but not understand. And whether you understand why or not, will lead to real frustration or confusion or anger or alienation from others at some point down the road.

So how to teach the relationship with the source of the virtue as opposed to the rightness of the virtue itself in order to help people enjoy that light and freedom?  A good question for me to consider.