Sunday, April 30, 2006

Walking Where Jesus Walked –
Saturday we went to a fundraiser at the Episcopal church we visit for a ministry named “Appalachian Service Project”. Basically teams of youth and adults go into poor parts of North Carolina and rehab houses. The youth sleep on the ground for a week, do most of the work, and the adults mostly mentor.

This sounds like one of the coolest youth programs I have ever heard of, especially for kids in an overprivileged area like we live in. Apparently the kids love it.

The comparisons between this activity and what my stake is doing is inescapable. We are sending our boys to scout camp and our young women to Young Women’s camp, where they will be surrounded by middle class white kids just like them, and will learn valuable skills like making baskets, cooking baked potatoes wrapped in foil in a campfire, making leather belts, etc.. The theme of our youth conference this year is “Walking Where Jesus Walked”. The kids will spend two days being lectured about Jesus, will go to two fun dances, will spend an afternoon outdoors playing fun games, and spend not more than a few hours on a nice safe service project for people they will never meet. They will stay in nice large comfortable homes and be fed abundantly.

In short, the kids from our Episcopal church will, in a small way, walk where Jesus walked. The kids from our stake will spend two days being talked to about walking where Jesus walked, in between fun safe activities.

I wonder which will be most effective. If the Second Coming were to happen this summer, where would we expect to find Jesus? In Appalachia, or in the air conditioned stake center?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why I Hate the Church –

I want it to either be true or not true. I hate being stuck in the middle, where some of the time it seems true and some of the time it doesn’t.

I spend much of my day being kind of disaffected. I study the scriptures at least 30 minutes a day after getting my son up for seminary. Most mornings I try to have a short devotional and prayer time. (Some apostate I am). During the day I take short snatches to surf the DAMU, just to keep up on the topics du jour. This week it’s been the high teenage suicide rate in UT, the existence of a “second anointing” in the temple, making people’s calling election sure if you’re high up in the church or well-connected. This tends to bolster my faith in God and Christ in general and make me wonder in specific how I ever got myself involved with the LDS church.

Then I have to go and read the latest Ensign this morning, and there were three wonderful faith-promoting articles reminding me of what I love best about the church.

Family Proclamation

I Needed to Know

Finding What Was Lost

It truly does teach a connection to our spiritual origins as children of God and our ultimate destiny as heirs of all that God has for us in a way I seldom find elsewhere. It teaches those concepts of “forever family” that I believe are more universally true than we appreciate most of the time. The temple ordinances suggest a connection with our extended families that are extremely powerful and comforting in time of need. The cultural connections with friends and family are extremely powerful.

I found myself thinking about what an idiot I am for considering throwing all this away over the doctrinal and historical concerns I have. I thought about my son’s eventual endowment and temple marriage, and I envisioned myself sitting out in the waiting room while some other more “worthy” male was there with him.
I wanted to coordinate with my wife and make a temple session appointment right away.

Then I realized that the things I was thinking about were all about me and what I want. I had to remind myself that I didn’t “think” and “study” myself into the place I am now. I prayed myself here. I’m here because the spirit led me here. The spirit that bears witness to me of the truth of those family connections the temple helps us focus on. That same spirit also bears witness to me that while the example of Christ leads us out into the world to bear the burdens of the afflicted, the church leads us into the family history center and behind a microfilm reader to focus on the dead, who are largely beyond our help.

And I found myself stuck in the middle again, remembering why I hate the church.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I am very disaffected today.

I’m in my stake young men’s presidency, and our president is a corporate VP. Since he’s on the road a lot he takes care of all the business by e-mail, which means as a counselor I usually have no idea what’s going on. Ward members tell me about stake budget cuts, ward members tell me about stake aaronic priesthood programs that have been changed, cancelled, etc.. I can’t remember the last time we had a presidency meeting.

For our Aaronic Priesthood/Young Women’s meeting last month he was in Asia. This month he’s in London. Usually the stake young women’s president is the one with the questions and the agenda items. They have presidency meetings and are generally informed about what’s going on. I’m embarrassed at my lack of awareness of stake issues most of the time, even though I don’t consider it’s my fault.

It’s just frustrating sometimes. I guess the good thing about having an anonymous blog is you can whine sometimes, and this is pure whining. Our YM president is a great guy, and I’m sure a much better person than I am. I just hate being in a position where I look stupid and out of touch most of the time.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sitting at the Crossroads --
Sometimes the good days in church are harder than the bad ones.

Yesterday was a good day. I found myself reflecting on the fact that the time spent singing the sacrament hymns are for me the most worshipful experiences found in any church. I love the quiet contemplation found in singing congregational hymns, as opposed to the chirpy "Jesus is my buddy" songs I have found in contemporary worship in other churches. By that I mean specifically the sacrament hymns, not odes to Joseph Smith, our mountain home, angels silently notes taking, calls to serve, counting my blessings, etc.. Hymns specifically about Christ and the atonement.

After sacrament I steeled my self for the expected talks on missionary work, obedience, standards of morality, tithing, priesthood, the restoration, etc.. Much to my surprise the 1st was on agency, and managed to avoid "to do" lists generally. The second was on taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, and quoted heavily from Robinson's "Believing Christ" and some of Covey's thoughts on the economy of scarcity and abundance, where we tear others down out of a mentality of scarcity and need to consider the infinite abundance of the atonement and God's love. They were both great talks.

Sunday school was pretty good, basically focusing on how the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness exemplified the importance of gratitude and our dependence on God. Only a slight "follow the prophets" detour.

Elders Quorum was a great lesson on Christlike forgiveness.

Nobody said a thing about Joseph Smith, the restoration, or worthiness all day.

These days can be hard, because I ask myself, "so exactly what is so bad about this church again?"

I have to remind myself that the topics that have always resonated with me, even when I was TBM, were those centered around Christ. Those that tended to set my teeth on edge were those centered on the restoration, quoting sanitized historical information, and those that basically abandon the atonement in favor of beating us up about our worthiness. As well as those who try to force us into one model of evangelism. And those preaching the oversimplified gospel of "the righteous will be blessed and the wicked will be cursed", and implying that keeping the commandments binds God through covenants into giving us blessings of some kind.

I also have to remind myself that the church is different things to different people, even in the ranks of the GAs. Some GAs can preach sermons on Christ that will bring tears to my eyes, while others are firmly pharisaical in their approach to the church. For some the LDS church is a Christian church of almost evangelical Protestant proportions, while to others it's more about restoration of authority than about Jesus.

All of which tends to reinforce my belief that there is much truth in the church, but it is not the only, or even the best, receptacle of gospel truth. As long as I can find truth in it, I will find difficultly letting go of it, even if I find myself straying other places at times in order to get the dose of true Christian grace that is often lacking.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Sacred Loneliness –
Sometimes being caught between two opinions is not easy. I found myself sitting behind two lovely sisters from my ward at a youth sporting event earlier in the week. Although they were certainly not aware of the gulf between us, I was. I know things they don’t about church history and current policy. My view of the church is and forever will be tarnished by things that they have no idea whatsoever about. While they’re able to go about their busy lives in innocence, a dark cloud hangs over my relationship with the church that will never dissipate. In fact it can probably only get worse. I can never relate to people in the church with the same degree of innocence, because I’m not like them any more. At least not on the inside.

I sat through an adult scout meeting last night feeling very alone for much the same reason. All around me are the Eveready Energizer Bunny types that make scouting work (non-LDS, as most LDS scouters just go through the motions), and realizing that these people also are converted to an organization in a way I can never be again. The church was it. It was the Kingdom of God on the earth, and when the house lights came up and the church was just a manmade organization, my ability to give my heart to another group of people died.

I often sit in groups feeling very alone. I can’t be like them anymore. I know too much. I’ve eaten the apple. My innocence is gone. My only salvation is that, when all is said and done, I can count on the terrible price Christ paid so that my soul can go home again. With that knowledge, I think I can make it.
The Cost of Discipleship –

Our Elders Quorum presidency was replaced last weekend while I was playing hooky at Episcopal services. Our new presidency is a fine group of men. The new president is about 30, a reserve pilot in the Air Force. His wife is extremely pregnant with their second child, and he just quit his day job to start a computer consulting business out of his generously sized home, bought no doubt in anticipating the church’s cultural imperative to raise large families.

The first counselor is about the same age, and his wife just gave birth to their fourth child.

The second counselor is a recently reactivated returned missionary who is coming back to church after probably 20 years of inactivity.

The thing I have to wonder is why in the world these men are being called to an Elders Quorum presidency. The first two clearly have enough family and personal responsibilities to occupy their lives, and the second is just getting back on his feet. I can probably see the calling of the 2d, but I just wonder how we can consider ourselves a family-centered church, while at the same time we burden eager young men trying to raise their families with time-consuming callings. Their first calling should be to the raising of their children, not running the programs of the church.

Can we not find older men with their child rearing days largely behind them to take on these responsibilities? Oh, wait, because their faithfulness in earlier assignments they're high priests, and thus ineligible to preside over the Elders Quorum.

I’m in a unique position to appreciate this, since I am months from being an empty nester. When the kids were little, church callings and activities came first, despite our best attempts to balance family life. Near the end of this pipeline I found the best years of my kids growing up were spent in church meetings and other well-intentioned civic activities, when I should have been at home enjoying these precious moments.

Bitter payback came all too quickly. The last priesthood session I would attend with my son before leaving for college was this past April. He had the choice between attending the priesthood session with me, or responding to a crisis at work. He chose work, and I realized I taught him too well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

One thing I will mention, probably more than once. The purpose of this blog is not to try to bash the church or to prove it's not true. I believe the church is true with all my heart. I believe that it's led by inspired leaders. I believe in some way that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is inspired.

What I have come to believe, however, is that the LDS church is not an exclusive path to salvation. I believe the Lord puts many possible ways up the mountain out there, because we are all created with different personalites. The LDS way will work for many people, and it will not work for many people. The Catholic way will work for many people, and it will not work for many people. Etc.. We have a God that loves us so much and values diversity so much that he has given us a multiple choice test with more than one correct answer.

Where I believe the LDS church errs is in its claims of exclusiveness. The Lord has given us manifest evidence that the LDS church is not perfect, and in their zeal to pretend otherwise the leadership tries to obscure that fact. In fact, we pretend with all our might that the church is true, that the leaders are always inspired, that sacrifice brings forth the blessings of Heaven, etc., until we crack under the weight of self-deception or just permanently lose touch with reality.

I honor and respect the church and its leaders and hope to continue my association with it for the rest of my life. However, I can no longer ignore its imperfections in a schizophrenic attempt to pretend a sows ear is really a silk purse.
Happiness --

2 Ne 2:25 -
Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy.

In many ways the restored gospel has never brought me joy. Not consistently. I have had many good times and short periods where I felt like I was with the program, but for the most part I have felt inadequate. I think most people feel the same way. There are a few people who manage to rise above perfectionism, and there are many who are smugly self-righteous, but most people in the middle feel like they just can't do enough to "lengthen their stride".

The sad thing is this is largely cultural rather than doctrinal. The Book of Mormon is full of imperfect people relying on grace. What I have read of early church history reminds me of a people working through tough situations, with no illusions of their "worthiness".

I think the creeping perfectionism most LDS suffer from is a creation of the modern church. The church is run by overachievers who have bubbled to the top, and they are trying to drag the rest of us with them, despite the fact that most people are not overachievers.

One of the things I realized yesterday is that I have not been happy most of my life. I have been part of systems that reinforced the fact that, in a deep fundamental way, I have not been good enough. From the military to the church, I just didn't measure up.

As I have stepped away from trying to be the person the Ensign wants me to be, I think I'm finally learning to be happy. I have come to appreciate that God made me with the imperfections I have. They're not necessarily weaknesses. In many cases they are design features, regardless of what others may say. Just because I don't express my feelings the same way or feel the spirit the same way doesn't make me inferior.

I have a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that the Lord cares more about my faith than about whether I stumble over my words trying to tell people about the church, or whether I make a decision in my calling that I should have referred to someone else, or whether I remembered to bring my copy of the stake calendar to a meeting.

I don't have to be perfect enough to be considered for major callings in order to have value in his eyes, because I am what he made me to be. I am a child of God, not a part in a celestial parts bin, only of value to the extent I contribute to the functioning of the Mormon machine. I can glory in the risen Lord and in my relationship with him, regardless of my relationship to those in the church, or even in my own family. Together, Christ and I make up a complete whole.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I decided to pay attention to Lent this year, which is something I have never done before. The LDS church doesn't use the traditional church calendar, other than Easter and Christmas, so we ignore the other days like Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc.. I wanted to pay more attention to those this year in order to deepen my spirituality and my appreciation of Jesus.

This involved several things. We attended Episcopal services on the major days, beginning with Ash Wednesday. I found a book with daily Lenten devotionals which I kept up with. I also tried to fast once a week. Usually these were not complete fasts, because I was open to the spirit on many things. Many times I would make it until lunch time and end up eating a roll or a piece of bread, as a reminder that Jesus is the bread of life. One exception to this was Good Friday, which was a complete fast. I thought about breaking it, but the symbolism I felt was not Jesus as the bread of life, but Jesus absent from the world because of the crucifixion. For once I was on my own. There was no one to rescue me from my fast. I had to go it alone and not eat.

Rather than abstaining from water as the LDS church teaches, though, I drank as much water as I wanted. For whatever reason this eliminated much of the real discomfort I usually experience with fasting. I was hungry, but not so weak, and I didn't experience headaches. In fact I mowed the back yard on Good Friday, not having taken in any calories for 22 hours.

During my weekly fasts I would also set aside 30 - 60 minutes for prayer and contemplation, based on the book I was reading.

I also picked two things that give me great pleasure, and I chose to give them up: caffeinated sodas in general, and drinking sodas at work, which I do as a means of stress reduction.

How did this practice work out? It was a tremendous spiritual exercise. No matter what happens in my relationship with the LDS church I will definitely participate in Episcopal services and do Lenten devotionals next year. I'm not sure I learned anything I didn't know before, but I felt it a lot deeper. To a small extent I appreciated some deprivation and tried to translate that into a hunger for Christ in my life. I reflected a lot more on my need for a savior, rather than on my ability to perfect myself. I contemplated more on how Jesus wants us to be involved in the world and with the temporally and spiritually disadvantaged, rather than on what I should be doing to sustain my ward and family, who are already comparably well off. To a small extent I empathized with the poor and tried to see them as children of God more. I spent a lot of time thinking about why God made gay people and what that means for us. I came to appreciate that God created me with my weaknesses to help me feel my dependence on Jesus and my need for a Savior, rather than playing some game where I am born with these weaknesses and then have to overcome them all and perfect myself in order to be "worthy" of his love, like some sort of perverted Survivor game.

In some small way I participated in the deprivation Christ did during the forty days in the wilderness and in the real personal sacrifices he made for us. As he was tempted by the good things of the world he forsook, I was tempted. I felt hunger and deprivation, as well as a sense of anticipation for the end of the cycle, much as we feel anticipation for the Second Coming. I felt a sense of doing without in the present as well as the sense of coming fulfillment in the future.

One thing I came to appreciate is that, although the LDS church is Christian, it is not Christ-centered to the degree many other churches are. While we are focusing on modern prophets, priesthood, restoration, and separateness, they are focusing more on the person of Christ and his mission to the rest of the world. I find the LDS messages and practices to be somewhat hollow compared to the Christ-centeredness to be found elsewhere.

We are so focused on the Gospel and the life of Jesus Christ as some kind of checklist for things to do that we miss the mysteries and joy of the season. The mystery for me is how God could love me and the people around me so much that he created me and sent a Savior on my behalf. And why he chose such a sorry lot as human beings in order to display his glory. The joy is that he did.

In the Episcopal services of Saturday night and Sunday morning we reviewed the stories of the creation, the flood, the exodus, and the resurrection. The thinking person can easily see the pattern of creation and redemption in this as God creates us for his own purposes and then establishes the pathway to eternal life.

We spent four consecutive days remembering the creation, crucifixion, and resurrection, whereas in the LDS service we would have spent about forty minutes, including the youth speaker, and then moved on to our study of the Old Testament and the teachings of Wilford Woodruff.

I also wanted to include some my thoughts on the major days of the Lenten season, based on the Episcopal services we attended. We skipped Good Friday out of respect for my son, but we made the rest of them. The Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday entries are cut/pasted from things I wrote on the internet.

Ash Wednesday.

We went to a service that included these words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." as the sign of the cross was made with ashes on our foreheads. Not something I've done before, but it seems to put the current subject into perspective. We have just one life to live, and it's a relatively short one, so we need to choose wisely what we devote it to.

Maundy Thursday.

My wife and I wanted to do something different this year to celebrate Easter, so we have been visiting a local church that does follow the calendar. Last night we went to a Maundy Thursday service, the first I had ever been to. One of the interesting aspects of that service was that, as part of telling the story of the Last Supper, they set aside some time for foot washing. The priest washed the feet of the deacon, the deacon washed the priest's feet, they washed two other's feet, and then each who had had his feet washed proceeded to wash the feet of another.

I wasn't at all comfortable with foot washing, so I sat and watched and contemplated. Before they had told the story of Jesus and Peter, where Jesus had basically told Peter that he was not really a disciple unless he allowed Jesus to wash his feet. The sermon had also emphasized the importance of being a follower of Jesus, and not merely a worshiper.

So, given all that, why was I unwilling to participate in the foot washing? What about it made me so uncomfortable?

As I thought about it, I realized that washing somebody else's feet wasn't the problem. After 22 years as a parent, as a former Marine, as a dog owner, I will stick my hands in about anything.

My problem was that I was unwilling to allow somebody else to see how nasty and dirty my feet might be. I hike a lot, and that messes up my toenails. I might not have been careful about scrubbing my feet that morning, and there might have been actual dirt on them that somebody might see. They might see what my feet look like and think less of me. I was basically unwilling to allow myself to be served, because somebody might think I was less than perfect in a way that I would find embarrassing.

The very nature of the gospel requires us to open ourselves up to others and to reveal our weaknesses. Often our greatest ministry to others is through sharing our weaknesses rather than our strengths. By sharing our weaknesses with others, we make them feel comfortable sharing theirs with us, and thus we are able to lift up another and build true Christian community. Also, true service to others is a chain. Others serve us and show us how its done, and then we in turn can serve, and the cycle of service is born. Refusing to allow ourselves to be served breaks the chain, out of mere personal pride and fear of revealing our weaknesses.

Jesus is quite clear that we have no part in him if we don't humble ourselves as little children, and this includes swallowing our pride and allowing ourselves to be served.

Sometimes the deep lessons available in something as simple as foot washing are just awe-inspiring.

Holy Saturday.
This was a long service involving chapters and chapters of reading, recapping the major biblical stories of our human history. My wife and I were possibly the only people in the congregation not involved in either the singing or reading or the eucharist in some way.

It definitely got the point across, though, of the death and resurrection of Christ as the climax of the story, rather than as isolated events. It helped us to remember where we came from and to appreciate God's grace and involvement in our lives.

Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday was an experience of real exultant joy. The other services were attended by a relatively smaller group of the faithful, but the building was packed for Easter. The music was exuberant, the singing was loud, and the joy in the resurrection was tangible. The sermon recapped the previous night's sermon, focusing on the meaning of the empty tomb in our lives and the resulting defeat of death and sin. The message was one of hope, joy, and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In summary Lent was a wonderful season for me this year, and I look forward to the continued spiritual growth of exploring other faith traditions.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes -

My wife and I were planning to attend Easter services at our favorite Episcopal church today, because we wanted to hear a message about Christ and the resurrection. Sometimes we get that in our ward, and sometimes not. Last year the talks were about the atonement, which is not really the same thing. More about our sins, rather than the hope we find in the resurrection of Christ.

Anyway, I woke my 18 year-old son up for church, because we were going to go to our ward sacrament meeting first with him before dodging out. He came downstairs and said, "I don't feel like going to church today." Why not? "I don't feel like going." Why not? "This is Easter, and they're not going to talk about Jesus. They're going to talk about stuff to do. All we ever talk about is do, do, do." And he went back to bed. I'm not sure I could have put it any more succinctly.

I just hope we can get him energized about something so he doesn't become inactive in Christianity entirely.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Since I have a lot of history to cover, I should probably start at the beginning.

I joined the LDS church in 1984 when I was tracted out by the missionaries. In the next 21 years I was active and faithful, sealed in the temple, raising two good kids in the church. But there was always something missing. At times I was really happy in the church, but much of the time I felt inadequate, because I never fit in. I didn't go to BYU, wasn't a great scriptorian or speaker, and wasn't exceptionally talented at any of the standard criteria for success as a mormon male. I felt like I just didn't get it, because I saw the things that Jesus stood for in the New Testament and was obviously not with the program because I didn't see how the church exemplified many of those things. Jesus stood for helping the poor, and we stand for perfecting ourselves. Jesus reached out to others, and we are so concerned about standards that we stay largely within our own community. Jesus advocated selling our possessions to help the poor, and the leadership of the church is often quite well off and blessed with material possessions.

I felt like I prayed and wasn't righteous enough to deserve an answer. I was never perfect enough, never smooth enough, never quick enough with the right scripture quote. I would never make it to the Celestial Kingdom, because I just wasn't good enough.

Then I had an experience in another Christian church that changed everything. I felt the spirit, which was wrong, because we know the spirit is only present in the LDS church.

Rather than trying to massage this I'll close with this quote from my journal:

On 29 April 2005 I accepted Christ. Although I have been a member of a Christian church for over twenty years now, through a process of prayer and study I came to understand that I had never really fully accepted Christ. I had learned facts about him. I had read scriptures about him, which I have been faithfully studying daily for over ten years. Ever since my baptism into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I have faithfully attended church, paid tithing, and served in the church. I have always believed in Jesus Christ as the literal son of God and that he died for our sins on the cross. I have taught this in lessons and testified of this both publicly and privately. Yet I never fully accepted Christ. I believed in Christ and knew and understood facts about Christ, but deep down I was holding something back. I guess I believed somehow that he had died completely for other people's sins, but not for mine. That other people were washed completely clean in his atoning blood, but somehow my account was only partially paid for, and that I was accountable for the rest. Other, somehow lesser, people were free, but since I was more capable more was expected from me than from others.

In a sense I also was full of fear that turning my life over to Christ would be somehow confining, that I would be missing something somehow. I feared that his plan for me would be beyond my ability to carry out, somehow beyond my strength. I thought that accepting Christ would involve adding more things to my "to do" list than I could accomplish, that it would involve basically a level of perfection that would always be just out of reach.

I was unwilling to accept that his plan for me was a plan for my personal happiness, rather than just a way of using me as a cog in a large celestial machine.

I was unwilling to accept that he cared about me as a person, in spite of my weaknesses.

The process of accepting him was really quite simple and unexpected. Through a process of study and prayer I came to realize that I had never fully surrendered my heart and will to Christ. I was filled with a desire to do so and to finally give away my pride after all these years and to become one with Him. Sometime later that day, while walking in a drug store and pondering the things I had been thinking about and feeling over the past few weeks, the clear impression came into my mind that I had accepted Him, and more importantly that he had accepted me. The offering of my will, as humble and imperfect as it might be, was accepted. I was fully His. I was saved.

What does accepting Christ mean in my life? It means trying to feel what he feels. It means not just treating people as we would have them treat us. It goes way beyond the Golden Rule. It's a process of seeing people as He sees them, as children of God. It means to try to love them as He loves them, which is unconditionally. This is not the same as unconditionally accepting everything they do, any more than love for our own children means we accept everything they do. It means learning to see other people as special in their own way, with their own talents and limitations, with unlimited divine potential.

Sometimes accepting Christ is not just doing more. It's feeling more. It's doing the same things with an attitude of worship rather than out of obedience. Doing things out of strict obedience is Old Covenant Old Testament thinking. God gave the Israelites a law of obedience because they couldn't handle anything more complicated. Jesus gave us a law based on the spirit as a higher law.

Accepting Christ is an inward process that changes our hearts and our whole outlook on life. It's not necessarily linked to a visible change in behavior, although that's an inevitable consequence of truly accepting Christ.

Quite simply it's a process of dedicating our lives to Christ, not because we're told to or because we're supposed to. i.e. not as an act of obedience or guilt. Because we freely give it away in love and gratitude. And the funny thing about it is that there is absolutely no way for anyone else to measure it. It's something completely inside.

The process of accepting Christ transforms every relationship, both with God and with others. Possibly this is the area where it is most measurable.

Accepting Christ transforms the very nature of why we do things, from behaving out of a sense of obedience to behaving out of a sense of love and gratitude for everything he has done for us.

Accepting Christ means gaining a fuller understanding of his sacrifice. Not just understanding more facts about it, but realizing that his sacrifice paid the awful price for every sin, large and small. When we fully understand this, I think we begin to feel a deep sense of gratitude for this, not just on Sundays, not just once a day, but during every waking minute. Literally every breath was bought and paid for on the cross. Every breath, every success, every failure, every joy, every sorrow that we experience.

That sense of gratitude makes us want to give back in every way possible, in all that we do. In a sense we were created so that the glory of God might become manifest in us, in everything we do. Out of gratitude we try to do all that we do such that that glory might shine forth in us, from the way we treat others to the way we set up and take down chairs. From the way we perform mundane tasks at work to the way we drive. From the way we teach in church to the way we cut our grass. In everything we acknowledge the great gift we have been given by lifting others up and by making the world around us a more beautiful and inspiring place.

We accept Christ by setting aside our pride in human relationships. When Christ taught, it was never about him. It was about his father in heaven. When he rebuked, he rebuked the hypocritical rather than the weak. I.e. the people who knew better and sinned in full knowledge of what they were doing. He rebuked people who abused their stewardships over others, who use their positions and strengths for personal gain rather than for blessing others. The weak he gently corrected and taught. He never lost his temper. His righteous anger was calculated and expressed on purpose to make a point, never for personal gratification. It was never about his way. It was about his father's way.

In a sense it is also learning to be more at peace with our imperfections. Accepting Christ means accepting on a daily basis that we have things to work on in order to more closely model our lives on his and our feelings on his. This means confronting our imperfections on a daily basis, which could drive a true perfectionist to insanity if we don't learn to accept that we have weaknesses and will always have weaknesses. We can't allow this to be a barrier to this daily process, though. If we react with fear and anger to our weaknesses we will never be able to confront them and to share them with Christ so we can make a plan for making them better.

Accepting Christ is a process of appreciating that we have been blessed with gifts and strengths as well as weaknesses, and being willing to humble ourselves and allow our lives to be directed in such a way that those strengths can be used to bless others. Focusing exclusively on our weaknesses causes us to hold back the gift of our strengths from him, because we don't even see them. If we don't see them we can't use them.

I guess blogs are like potato chips: you can't have just one. In fact, this is my third. Why so many? I think the answer will be obvious as this takes shape. For about the past year I have been on a journey out of the mainstream of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most of my comments have either been written to a private journal or on a discussion site for like-minded people.

I'm in a position where I have more to say than I think is really appropriate in a discussion forum, so I'm going to try recording them in a blog. Maybe I'll send the link to my bishop when the time comes. Maybe I'll return to the fold and quickly fold this up in embarrassment. Who knows? Since I'm not inclined to burn any bridges, I'm going to keep this anonymous, so I can say what I want without going public before I'm ready. The only one who will know who I am is my wife, who I'm sure will have much to say. :-)

Since this is my blog, I reserve the right to be wordy and blunt. Comments welcome, as always.