Saturday, July 26, 2014
William Blake wrote a short poem that I recently found in a book I bought at a thrift store for my daughter called, "Poems and Prayers for Children." Here it is in its entirety:
I sought my soul,
but my soul I could not see.
I sought my God,
but my God eluded me.
I sought my brother
and I found all three.
Here is my prose paraphrase of the poem:
I tried to figure out what this "soul" thing is that religious people keep talking about, but my senses couldn't detect anything like a soul. My scientific methods were inherently inadequate for the tasks of locating, pinning down, and studying my soul.
I prayed to God, I went to church, I read scriptures, but still, God and His mysterious ways seemed so far away from me. After all my religious study, I felt I knew nearly nothing about God.
Then I shifted my attention to other people. I helped my brothers, and my neighbors, and somehow, in the very act of serving others, the concepts of soul, God, and others made more sense to me. I spiritually understood what the soul is and I felt that I had encountered God. I learned, on a deep, spiritual level, that my soul, and my God, and my neighbor, are inseparably combined.
I love this poem. It rings so true to me.
Grant Palmer points out in various interviews that in the four gospels, Christ never really taught theology. He never sat his disciples down and said, "OK, now I'm going to explain to you the role of rituals in the process of achieving salvation." And Christ never really clearly explained priesthood keys or the nature of the Godhead or the Trinity in detail. Instead, Christ focused mostly on how we should live. He went around healing people. He dealt with each individual on a case-by-case basis. He didn't have a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all approach to evangelization or pastoral care. In each one of his interactions with the individuals of Jerusalem and surrounding areas, he demonstrated his transcendent love through service. Christ recognized that people don't need doctrine nearly as much as they need love.
And so, through example, Christ taught us the same truth that William Blake teaches us in his poem. And King Benjamin was also teaching the same concept as both Christ and Blake when he said in Mosiah 2:17, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." Instead of focusing on theology or doctrine, focus on your brother. Focus on your neighbor.
What does your neighbor need? Does he need food, shelter, a shoulder to cry on, good company, or encouragement? Well then, do the Christian thing and give that to him.
Does your neighbor need a fiery sermon and a call to repentance? He might.
Does your neighbor need a Sunday School lesson about why baptism by immersion has to be done by one who has the proper priesthood keys and is authorized by the bishop to perform the ordinance? Probably not.
Most of all, your neighbor needs love.
Being a Mormon encourages you to seek after your brother. All the programs of the church are designed to help us take care of our brothers and neighbors.
If you serve in the nursery, you should care for those little ones for the few hours a week that you have them, and treat them the way Christ would treat them. Those little kids are your spirit brothers and sisters. They're children of God, and they have souls.
If you are an Elder's Quorum President, treat the elders in your quorum as Christ would treat them. Don't guilt-trip them into home teaching or make them memorize the thirteen articles of faith. Instead, just model good home teaching yourself, occasionally give them gentle reminders, and do what you can to show them that you care about their well-being and the well-being of their families.
If you stay LDS and seek your brother as Christ does, I testify to you that you will find your soul, and God, and your brother.
I'll end this post with the words to the third verse of "Lord, I Would Follow Thee":
I would be my brother's keeper.
I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary,
I would show a gentle heart.
I would be my brother's keeper.
Lord, I would follow thee.
Friday, July 25, 2014
Every day, another Mormon stumbles onto Mormon Think, and has his or her testimony dashed to pieces. Every single day.
The Internet is not going away, and the issues that cause people to lose their testimonies are not going away. In fact, the presence of the Internet is growing. And the research that calls into question the claims of the LDS Church is growing, and is being distributed more and more, every day. The doubters are multiplying and replenishing.
What do Mormons do when they lose their testimonies? Some leave. Some stay. There's no easy way to deal with the information critical of Mormonism so prevalent on the Internet. Leaving is hard, and staying is hard. Life is hard.
Those who stay, despite not believing all or some of Church doctrine, are sometimes referred to as cultural Mormons, or New Order Mormons, or cafeteria Mormons, or doubters. I like to say that I'm behaviorally orthodox but theologically unorthodox. Well... I like to say that in cyberspace. In real life, I'll probably give you the impression that I'm a happy Mormon sheep in the happy Mormon flock. And in some ways, I am.
I'm one of those who intend to stay, for the rest of my life. And I'm not muddling along in quiet agony. I'm not staying only until my family or work situation changes so that leaving is easier. I'm in this thing for the long haul. I find living the Mormon religion to be spiritual and meaningful, and there are many times when I feel that God wants me to stay. To borrow from a favorite hymn, "Stay Mor-mon, Stay Mor-mon, Oh, there's One who smiles on high, when we stay Mor-mon."
I feel God nudging me to stay. I've prayed a lot, not as much as I should lately, but, seriously, I've done deep and long soul-searching and studying and praying and thinking about staying LDS. (Religion is the most important subject in the world, and it deserves strict attention and serious study, and solemn hours of pondering.) And after all that searching, the conclusion that I've come to is that I should stay LDS.
And there are others like me. There are other people who don't believe everything they hear at church, who don't believe that the Book of Mormon is a literal book of history, but who keep going to church anyway, because they want to share the religion with their families, because they want to be a part of the beautiful Mormon community, and because of so many other reasons, some of which are enumerated on this blog.
I've met some of these people in real life, and I've chatted with quite a few of them on New Order Mormon and StayLDS.com. Again, I emphasize, there are more and more New Order Mormons being created every day.
Why is this a reason to stay LDS? Well, the more New Order Mormons there are in the Church, the more acceptable they eventually will be. And even if New Order Mormons aren't officially welcomed by the LDS Church, their increasing population will probably mean that there will be more positive changes in the church. These changes will make church more accommodating to New Order Mormons. What changes might there be? Well...
Maybe we won't sing "Praise to the Man," anymore. Maybe there won't be so much pressure on young men to serve missions. Maybe the Sunday School lessons won't be quite as whitewashed and dumbed-down. Maybe there will be more financial transparency in the church, and maybe they'll open up the vaults in Salt Lake City and let historians do their thing. Maybe tithing settlements will be discontinued.
I hope these changes are on the horizon. But even if these changes never come about, that's okay with me. Generally speaking, I'm happy with the Church the way it is. And instead of advocating for institutional change, like Kate Kelly, I think my time is more wisely spent doing different things. I'm trying to be the change I want to see in the church. I'm trying to do my best to bring out the best parts of Mormonism on a small, local level, as I participate in my ward and as I raise my children.
If you're going through a faith crisis, you may feel alone. And yes, there are few of us New Order Mormons, but again, our numbers are growing. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that there are more and more doubters every day. Eventually, the Church will have to do something to make members like us feel more welcomed.
I had my faith crisis in 2012, the year of the most recent Presidential election. When I was going through the dark night of the soul, and considering resigning from the LDS church, there were two people right there by my side who kept me going to church: my wife and Mitt Romney.
OK, OK, Mitt Romney wasn't technically "by my side," during my faith crisis. He was traveling around the country, on the campaign trail. But Mitt Romney was with me in spirit! In those dark times when I was crying a lot, and losing a lot of sleep and losing my religion, Mitt Romney was my role model of decency and righteousness. He was the personification of righteous governance, and truth and justice and Americanism! In my mind, he was the pattern of a good priesthood holder.
And I still feel that way about Mitt Romney, even though I now have a different perspective on the origins of our shared religion.
I shook Mitt Romney's hand once. It was in 2010 when he was in Arizona campaigning for Senator John McCain's reelection. Let me tell you, he's just as impressive in real life as he is on TV. There's just something about him that makes him stand out in a crowd. Maybe it's his height. He's really tall.
And Mitt Romney's good-looking, and he's smart, and talented, and nice, and he's just wonderful.
And he's got a bunch of sons who are all Eagle Scouts and return missionaries and wonderful fathers and husbands and doctors and businessmen and just... just... you know... wonderful! The Romney family is the type of family that makes this nation great! How could you be mad at the Romney family? And how could you be mad at the church that helped form the culture of the Romney family?
Mitt Romney was always an active, faithful Mormon. I mean, he went to BYU! And he was a stake president! So, obviously, the LDS Church had an enormous amount of influence in Mitt's life.
But Mitt Romney is not a blind follower of the Brethren. In fact, there's a cool story in the Romney family that illustrates the Romney family's relationship with the leaders of the Church.
In 1964, an Apostle named Delbert Stapley sent a letter to George Romney, Mitt Romney's father, who was the governor of Michigan at the time. In the letter, Stapley requested that George Romney stop advocating for the rights of African Americans. Here's a copy of the letter.
If you don't feel like reading it yourself, that's cool. I'll just tell you that it's kind of racist, and it basically says that black people got their black skin from a curse because they were less righteous in the pre-mortal realm, and so... they shouldn't be allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as the white folks. Well, that's not exactly what the letter says, but it says something close to that.
And what did George Romney do when he got the letter? He ignored it. He ignored the counsel from an Apostle, and he kept on marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And I think that was the right thing to do.
So, this Romney family story illustrates the proper relationship that we ought to have with church leaders. We should respect them, and most of the time we should take their advice, but sometimes, the church leaders are wrong. And when the church leaders are wrong, we shouldn't feel like we should do what they tell us to do anyway.
I remember when I was a kid, in some church class, one of the teachers told us kids that if the Bishop tells us to do something that we think is wrong, we should do it anyway. The Bishop was inspired, the teacher said. The Bishop held sacred priesthood keys and had stewardship over us, the teacher said. So, even if the bishop did turn out to be wrong, and got us to do something wrong, God wouldn't hold us accountable for the sin that we committed, because we were just following what the bishop said.
Well... I'm sure that my Sunday School teacher, or my Primary teacher, or whoever it was, had a really sweet spirit.
But listen, most of the time, following the bishop, just like following the Prophet, is the right thing to do. What do the Bishop and the Prophet tell you to do? Most of the time they tell you to have faith in Christ, to pray, to read the scriptures, to be nice to people, be self-reliant, serve in the nursery, pick vegetables at the church farm, help people move, volunteer at Deseret Industries, and other great stuff like that. So, most of the time, following the bishop and following the Prophet is the right thing to do.
But every now and then, just like George Romney, we should respectfully ignore the counsel of church leaders. Sometimes church leaders are wrong.
Except for Mitt Romney. I can't think of a time when he was wrong.
Ha ha ha. Just kidding. He recently said he thought the minimum wage should be raised, and I disagree with that, and I disagree with Romneycare, the health care plan that he helped develop in Massachusetts when he was the Governor there. But 97% of the time, I think Romney's right. Boy oh boy, how I wish he was the President now.
But I digress. My point is, you should stay LDS because the Church produces great people like Mitt Romney. If you stay LDS, maybe you'll be great like Mitt.
I've known a few returned missionaries who have worked as trail-walkers for the Anasazi Foundation. The Foundation is a unique wilderness therapy program for troubled teens, based in Arizona. It's for teens who have run away from home, or who are addicted to drugs, or who have severe emotional or social problems. Basically the troubled teens are taken out into the wilderness for 2 - 3 months, and like Henry David Thoreau, they emerge from the woods a little more level-headed. I've heard from personal anecdotes that the Anasazi Foundation really does help a lot of families heal. The work that goes on in the wilderness with trail-walkers is often more effective than counseling, or medication, and it's almost always more effective than incarceration.
From the "About Us" section on their website:
The Anasazi Foundation was started by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The founders were BYU students who enjoyed taking survival classes. They realized that being out in nature for a long period of time is good for the soul. I've learned that first-hand, too. Being out in the wilderness helps you to realize what's important and what's not.
You can learn more about the Anasazi Foundation from their website.
I don't think it's a coincidence that many spiritual leaders go alone into the wilderness to receive enlightenment and revelation. Moses climbed a mountain. Buddha sat under a tree. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights before he started his public ministry. Joseph Smith had the First Vision in a grove of trees. Jacob was alone in nature, with a stone as a pillow, when he had his vision of a ladder with angels going up and down. Enos prayed on a hunting trip, in the wilderness. Catholic convents and monasteries are usually built in very remote locations. Notice a pattern? It seems that few grand spiritual experiences occur in the middle of a big city, surrounded by so many distractions and workaday concerns, and surrounded by so many. In nature, you see God's creation all around you. You see the sun set, the sun rise, the inescapable weather, the animals, and the rhythms of the natural world. In nature, you see the fingerprints of God everywhere.
Jesus had this to say about distinguishing true prophets from false prophets:
Matthew 7: 16 - 18 "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit."
I think this scripture is useful is distinguishing good churches from bad churches. If a church is sowing seeds of discord, if it's leading people into spiritual complacency, if it's condoning sin, if it's brainwashing its members, if it's misusing tithing funds, then it's a bad church. If a church is encouraging love, peace, faith in Christ, obedience to God's commandments, and inspiring people, and creating an environment in which the power of God is made manifest, then it's a good church.
So, Matthew 7: 16 - 18 provides good guiding principles for distinguishing between true prophets and false prophets, and between good churches and bad churches. However, prophets, as well as churches, are neither all good or all bad. In this world, the wheat and the tares grow side by side. Sometimes the wheat looks like the tares, and vice versa. Life is tricky.
There are some good fruits of Mormonism, and there are some bad fruits of Mormonism. You can read about the bad fruits of Mormonism on angry ex-Mormon websites. But this blog is mostly about the good fruits of Mormonism. And the Anasazi Foundation is good, tasty fruit.
Let's partake of the delicious, spiritual fruit. Let's stay LDS.