Monday, June 25, 2018

Reading "Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood", by George MacDonald

“I am now getting old—faster and faster. I cannot help my gray hairs, nor the wrinkles that gather so slowly yet ruthlessly; no, nor the quaver that will come in my voice, not the sense of being feeble in the knees, even when I walk only across the floor of my study. But I have not got used to age yet. I do not FEEL one atom older than I did at three-and-twenty. Nay, to tell all the truth, I feel a good deal younger.—For then I only felt that a man had to take up his cross; whereas now I feel that a man has to follow Him; and that makes an unspeakable difference.”



“I love a parson, sir. And I'll tell you for why, sir. He's got a good telescope, and he gits to the masthead, and he looks out. And he sings out, 'Land ahead!' or 'Breakers ahead!' and gives directions accordin'. Only I can't always make out what he says. But when he shuts up his spyglass, and comes down the riggin', and talks to us like one man to another, then I don't know what I should do without the parson....

“I resolved to try all I could to be the same man in the pulpit that I was out of it. Some may be inclined to say that I had better have formed the resolution to be the same man out of the pulpit that I was in it. But the one will go quite right with the other. Out of the pulpit I would be the same man I was in it—seeing and feeling the realities of the unseen; and in the pulpit I would be the same man I was out of it—taking facts as they are, and dealing with things as they show themselves in the world.”

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Becoming

“I was not making much progress at all.  The problem did not lie in my objectives.  My objectives were lofty—never stooping to dishonesty, not compromising my principles, standing forward to defend the right and make corrections when things didn’t go as they should....

“The problem was that pursuing these objectives was a project too much in behalf of myself.  ...My worries about myself [and my progress] led me to slight others or use them for my purposes...

“How then shall we come unto Christ so that everything will be different from what it could possibly be otherwise?

“By sacrificing all taking of offense.
By giving up criticism, impatience and contempt, for they accuse the sisters and bothers for whom Christ died.
By forswearing vulgarity and pornography which diminish both the user and the used.
By putting aside, in short, every practice that bears the image of murder, obliteration of souls, discord, and death.
By giving these practices their true name, violence, and abhorring even their first appearance.
By renouncing war in every form and proclaiming peace. (Doc. & Cov. 98:16)

“... in the long term, and often in the short one, people respond more energetically, think more clearly, work more joyfully, and build more wisely when they put one another ahead of self;

“when they welcome the interruption brought on by another person’s need;
when they do their work in ways that enhance each other’s work;
when the forget about getting credit [from God or man or self];
when they renouce in their hearts all sense of belonging to an elite company, even a company of the brightest or best trained or the most doctrinally pure;
when they reach out to and embrace those who are violating all of those principles.

“I am here this day because of those who treated me graciously in spite of my frequently making things worse by trying aggressively to make them better when patience would have been much the wisest way.”

C. Terry Warner, “Honest, Simple, Solid, True”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness,“

“God will forgive you.”

That sentence often left me perplexed.  I appreciate it when someone forgives me for something I have done that has hurt them or made their life more difficult.  I appreciate not only the forgiveness that lightens my burden but I also respect the forgiver’s unselfish, generous, or peaceful nature that allows him or her to forgive the hurt, or dismay or difficulty that I have caused in his or her life.

 But, growing up, I couldn’t fathom God being emotionally hurt, or dismayed or thwarted by my sins.  God is love.  God is justice.  God is mercy.  And he’s all about agency.  He expects us to mess up.    I mean, God is not so small that He is so focused on obedience to his commandments that he feels personally offended or hurt  when I fail to obey.  He has no ego wrapped up in our compliance with his mandates. Nor does my disobedience make his eternal life more difficult.  Certainly he loves me and cares about me, but my personal recalcitrance or failures to avoid sin do not mess up his divine existence, or thwart His work, nor cause him great anguish over my ongoing imperfection.  Our God is a God of love, not a God of anguish or unhappiness over every mistake made by each of his billions of children. (What a miserable eternal life that would be)  His stand against sin is firm, but his emotional health and well being is not tied to my exact compliance or lack thereof this week.

I believe that most of the run of the mill sins we continually make don’t make God feel personally offended or thwarted, neither do they surprise Him.  Instead his response to our everyday sins that we recognize is more along the lines of consistent encouragement to get our act together better and, with His help, change.  So, forgiveness offered by God must not mean being excused and forgiven for emotionally injuring him or disappointing him by our not yet being perfect.

Yes, I know there are Old Testament and Pearl of Great Price references to God weeping or being angry.  I am not saying that He never does feel strong negative emotions.  But when He does, it is not because I or someone else failed to do something like remember to fast on Fast Sunday last month.

If I am right, and God is not personally, or physically, or emotionally, or spiritually, hurt or thwarted when I engage in less than perfect behavior, then it must mean that there is something other than personally offending Him or causing Him difficulty or disappointment that my plea for forgiveness must be about.

Lately I have been studying the topic of the mercy of God, which is a fascinating and lovely subject.  And I have found that you cannot study His mercy without also running into a lot of statements and discussions about His sense of justice and what makes Him angry.  And do you know which one thing, throughout the scriptures, always makes Him angry or sad?  It is you physically, emotionally or spiritually hurting one of his other children and not caring about it, or worse, thinking it’s cool or admirable.  THAT makes Him angry and doubles his sorrow, once for you, and the other for the person you hurt.

As a mom, I totally understand that.  In my current calling I can understand that.  I can remain pretty calm and unmoved by your messing with me, but if you willfully or ignorantly and/or arrogantly hurt one of my “kids” and don’t care enough to think twice about, or, horrifically, enjoy it,  I am mad.  I can keep my cool.  I can treat you with civility, I can even continue to try to help you, but I am furious.  Mother bear furious underneath my calm efforts to work for change.  Angry at the opportunities you had to do good in which you willfully chose to do something that hurt someone else.  And sad for you.  I am so, so sad for you.

And it will only be after you have not only changed, but also after you spoken to me about that change and your regret about the damage you did to people I love, that you will begin to feel at peace in my presence and will we be able to start to rebuild trust.

So I think that helps me understand better why the scriptures discuss confessing to and receiving forgiveness from God.  It’s when we understand not just the damage we’ve done to ourselves, but, more importantly, the callously inflicted damage, great or small, that our sins cause, or will cause in the lives of our brothers and sisters who He loves as deeply as He loves us, that we begin to understand more clearly why we seek His forgiveness as well as theirs.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

“Obedience is the first law of heaven.” Where did that come from?

There is a sentance that is sometimes quoted by members of my faith, though few know where it came from.  It is this:

“Obedience is the first law of heaven.”

It was spoken by Joseph F. Smith in a conference talk on October 7, 1873.

It is often used to advocate for compliance with laws that one does not see the reasons for, and therefore is disinclined to obey, intimating that if you don’t agree, or don’t understand, then just obey anyway, because obedience is that important.

But.   In that same talk.  Joseph F. Smith explains what he means by obedience.

“We talk of obedience, but do we require any man or woman to ignorantly obey the counsels that are given? Do the first Presidency require it? No, never. What do they desire? That we may have our minds opened and our understandings enlarged, that we may comprehend all true principles for ourselves; then we will be easily governed thereby, we shall yield obedience with our eyes open, and it will he a pleasure for us to do so.”

He is advocating an obedience that is very different from obedience for the sake of obedience.  He is speaking of an obedience that is based upon an opened mind and the understanding that we have aquired of the heavenly principles behind the law and how they play out when we live them and a clear desire on our part to live those principles because those principles are ones we want to make a part of who we are and part of the world in which we live.   It is an obedience that is totally different from “obedience just because obedience is super important.”

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Numbers 20:8-12 Thoughts on the saying “Obedience brings blessings and exact obedience brings miracles”

I’ve already posted on the origin of that saying that was quoted in a talk given by Russell Nelson several years ago at the MTC.   He clearly thought it was a helpful way to look at things, but he was not the author of it.  Which is actually reassuring, because it’s problematic for the following reasons.

1.  When is a blessing not a miracle?    When you get right down to it, a huge percentage of the blessings we receive are pretty miraculous in and of themselves considering the nature of the universe and the state of mankind.   I believe that delineating a difference between a blessing and a miracle is simply a matter of subsets, not a matter of two different things.  Blessings are good things that happen .  The scriptures teach us “that all good things cometh from God”.   Miracles are a subset of those good things; they are the good things that come from God that are unexpected, surprising and inexplainable to us.

2. If exact obedience was required for a miracle (an amazing, unusual blessing) to occur, then when Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20: 8-12, no water would have come out of it.  His action on that occasion was not exactly obedient (and God points that out to him) and certainly the Israelites were not exactly obedient at that time either.  Hence, this story belies the assertion that exact obedience is required for miracles.

I think it’s an excellent idea to try to obey God.  But reducing the possibility of miracles to situations where our exact obedience comes into play as an essential prerequisite to the unfolding of the miracle is not a spiritually healthy way to view our relationship with God.  It is a pattern of thinking that reduces our sense of His amazing mercy and long-suffering towards us, and can reduce our view of His interaction with us to an earned merit system, which it is definitely not.

So yes, seek to know and love and obey God and his commandments and to work daily under the guidance of his Holy Spirit, but don’t believe that His love and power and will to do amazing things are dependent upon your exact obedience.  They aren’t.



Sunday, April 08, 2018

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Meek, Matthew 11:29

I read Elder Bednar’s Conference talk today.  It is a well constructed treatise on the quality of “meekness”.

I decided to look into the way the word "meek" has been understood and translated in recording what Jesus said in Matthew 11:29, “for I am meek and lowly in heart”.

So I looked up the translation of that verse in a the few languages I know.  The variety in the translations was interesting.  And I looked it up in an English dictionary.

One entry in the latter caught my eye.  It was an “obsolete” definition; a definition that was understood long ago, but has been dropped long since.  It was “gentle, kind”.

That made sense to me.  That definition of meek in the context of that verse would make a great deal of sense.  Probably more sense than the other traditional definitions in religious discourse: submissive, obedient, humble, inclined to righteous responsiveness or given to restraint.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am gentle and kind and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your soul.

So I looked up the that passage in Greek.  The word there is  “πραύς (praus)
And that word is defined in three different Greek dictionaries as “meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, mild, benevolent, humane”

You can find that same word also in Matthew 5:5,  (The meek shall inherit the earth.) Matthew 21:5, (Where Jesus describes his final entry into Jerusalem as “meek”) and 1st Peter 3:4. (the quality of meekness and quietness of spirit being highly valued by God)

Being gentle, kind, forgiving, benevolent, humane qualifies you as trusted by God to inherit the earth.

Kindness, forgivness, benevolence and a humanitarian response were the qualities of Christ at the time when he received the loudest acclaim and could have been, instead, proud and pleased and flattered.

When you are gentle, kind, forgiving, benevolent and humane, you are acting in a way that is highly valued by your Father in Heaven, the amazing Father who will be our ultimate judge

Obedience that comes from a way of being that includes kindness, gentleness, benevolence, forgivness and humane response (meekness) is different in quality and depth from the obedience that comes just from the other linked attributes of submission or humility or willingness to do good or self-restraint.  There is a power of goodness that is profound when the lost definitions are restored to the existing one.

I think that the contraction of and change in the word “meek” over the centuries has robbed us of something valuable in our reading of scripture.

Interestingly, I think that the men that Elder Bednar referred to in his talk,  Amulek and Pahoran, did incorporate some of those elements; Amulek in his willingness to take in and feed and help Alma when Alma was being persecuted, Pahoran's amazing response to Moroni's scathing remonstrance.

Elder Bednar didn't cover that though, perhaps because the language has changed.  I think that our language has left us with a loss.