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 the warning in verse 11 is clearly aimed at those who do fear the Lord and obey his servant.  It's not "them", it's "us" 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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What E. said when she was writing about what N. said and what she thought about that.

He said that while consequences always have to play out and we don’t always get rescued from them, and it may take time and work for us to change our behaviors, it does not take any additional time or energy for the atonement to cover our sins.

They are already paid.

We don’t need to shout out the behaviors or choices of others or ourselves, and lose our voices screaming the cost of it all.

Because it’s already paid.

We can’t disappoint God, because he already knows us perfectly.

It means, though, that [we really should not be devastated by] disappoint[ment in ourselves], because what we thought was disappointment is really an opportunity to see ourselves more clearly and more accurately.

C.S. Lewis said that because God knows all (which is not the same as causing all), our experience of the present moment is like God’s experience of the past, present, and future all at once.  The more we live in the present, rather than lost in the past or worried about the future, the more accurately we will learn to see ourselves the way God see[s] us.”

Sunday, November 08, 2015

What manner of men (or women) ought ye to be?

I am thinking about how very blessed so very many of us are.

And I am thinking how often our emotional wounds, due to rejection, derision, threats, false friends, loneliness in the midst of crowds, being deeply and caustically misunderstood or disenchanted, and having family members that oppose us or believe we are tragically deluded, haunt us to such a degree that what gratitude we may feel for the blessings we have received is deeply overshadowed by a belief that we will only be at peace if those wounding experiences are removed not only from our lives but the lives of everyone else we care about.

And I am thinking about Jesus, who spent much of his ministry with his person and his teaching consistently rejected, derided, threatened, misrepresented and ultimately heart-wrenchingly betrayed. He experienced feeling alone and caustically or ignorantly misunderstood, having beloved family members thinking he was all wrong and without a family home to welcome him. And he also knew (and said) that many of the people he dearly loved, who sought to live the kind of life he demonstrated, faced the same and would experience the same throughout their own lives as well.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

And yet he faced those experiences and that knowledge with calm, immovable, love and hope, both for those who suffered and for those who on purpose, or inadvertently, caused suffering. He knew and lived peace. 

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you...Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

He spoke calmly, and immovably for what he believed was right when others, both the powerful and the weak, derided both him and his ideas. And having said it, usually calmly, and occasionally very, very unmistakably clearly, he let it be and focused on blessing those at hand who were in need. He taught and spoke without needing for others to agree or “see his point of view”. He did not fear the hurtful results of others failing to heed his words. And he did not anguish over not making everything right and fair and good and “the way it should be”, right now.  I think it is because he truly understood mercy and grace.

He spoke the truth without monitoring how it was received and without losing hope when it was not heeded. And he did not ostracize or fear to encounter those who rejected what he said (unless, of course, they were setting about to stone him, and even then it was a calm quiet, “passing out of their midst”). In the synagogue and in the temple and on the side of the hill overlooking the sea and everywhere else he was the Prince of Peace. He was hope for us and trust in God personified. He just WAS.

Or, you might say, He just IS.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Paul and Barnabas in Antioch--Clarity, Trust and Equanimity in Missionary Work

My respect for the clarity, trust and equanimity of these two struck me this morning.

Paul speaking in the synagogue in Antioch:
Acts, chapter 13
"'Therefore, brothers and sisters, know this: Through Jesus we proclaimed forgiveness of sins to you. From all those sins from which a person couldn’t be put in right relationship with God through Moses’ Law,  through Jesus that person who believes is put in right relationship with God. Take care that the prophets’ words don’t apply to you:
 Look, you scoffers,
    marvel and die.
I’m going to do work in your day —
    a work you won’t believe
    even if someone told you.”[Hab. 1:5]
" As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people urged them to speak about these things again on the next Sabbath. When the people in the synagogue were dismissed, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism accompanied Paul and Barnabas, who urged them to remain faithful to the message of God’s grace.  

"On the next Sabbath, almost everyone in the city gathered to hear the Lord’s word. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were overcome with jealousy. They argued against what Paul was saying by slandering him.  Speaking courageously, Paul and Barnabas said, “We had to speak God’s word to you first. Since you reject it and show that you are unworthy to receive eternal life, we will turn to the Gentiles. This is what the Lord commanded us:
"I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.”[Isaiah 49:6]
 "When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and honored the Lord’s word. Everyone who was appointed for eternal life believed,  and the Lord’s word was broadcast throughout the entire region.  However, the Jews provoked the prominent women, as well as the city’s leaders. They instigated others to harass Paul and Barnabas, and threw them out of their district.  Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet and went to Iconium.  Because of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, the disciples were overflowing with happiness."
As an aside, I have heard many conjectures about what exactly "shake the dust of your feet" means. Some of them were less charitable than others. I think the one I've pasted below makes sense.  It reminds me of the patient comment of a friend whose beloved husband was making stupid choices that she could not change. 
"I hand him up to God", she smiled.  
No rancor, no holier-than-thou, just a recognition that she had done that which she could, that she would continue to love, and that she could also gratefully trust God to do healing and teaching beyond what she was able to do in their committed relationship. 
Shaking off the dust:  "There are situations in our lives where God calls us to stand firm, proclaim truth, and give patient testimony. Sometimes we need to continue until we see the results of that testimony. Other times God gives us the freedom to... figuratively “shake the dust off our feet” when, under the Holy Spirit’s direction, we surrender those people to the Lord."
I trust God with that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Brother Durrant's talk.

I learned something listening to Brother Durrant’s talk at General Conference, which I got to hear this past weekend.

What I learned: that it is never wise to choose a topic to speak on in church based upon 1) a practice that you feel you are very good at or 2) a practice that you created and used with energy and enthusiasm in a previous calling. His was a talk built on a framework of favorite behaviors, not gospel preaching. Yes there was some gospel, but the framework was behaviors. And an effective sermon must have gospel as its framework and it must be spoken with a keen sense of one’s own inadequacies, not one’s sense of success.

Brother Durrant did both numbers 1 and 2. He spoke about finances and saving (his professional field, in which, I gather, he as been successful) and about the “ponderize” plan that he implemented with great enthusiasm as a mission president in Texas.

As a result, like all talks of that type, the talk simply did not carry the weight and power that a conference talk can when it is simply very thoughtful, inspired, humble explanations of essential truths and divine inspiration.
The enthusiastic merchandising by his son only pointed out again that “ponderizing” was a family tradition, a practice enthusiastically embraced and enjoyed and found to be helpful by an LDS family. And simply that.

And I think that the merchandising plan put together by his son shows a concerning combining of capitalism and gospel that, if it were my son, would get the thorough kibosh from me.

Ultimately, I feel sorry for Brother Durrant.  If he has not learned what he needed to learn from the experience, I feel sorry for him for that. If he has or does learn what he needs to from this experience, it will be a heavy and troubling load for to him to carry as he serves in his new calling, knowing that it was likely the only opportunity he will have to speak in that forum, and that he had fallen short of the mark to serve it as wisely as he could have.

So probably my wisest response will be to pray for him.