Monday, June 12, 2006

Dateline 06/12/2006 –
Sometimes this blog functions as an essay repository, and other times it functions more as a journal to record what I’m thinking on a given day. Today I guess it’s a blog.

I was on the “five hour block” schedule yesterday as a result of my stake calling. I attended sacrament and Sunday school in my own ward and then drove across the county to attend ward conference for another ward. The preaching and teaching in both wards was nothing less than inspired and inspiring. The thing I continue to love about the church is the commitment of the leaders and members to the “restored” gospel. I just can’t help but be moved by it. The second talk in my ward and the bishop and stake president’s message at ward conference were very moving and Christ-centered. The concluding speaker in my ward pled with us to reach out to those who see themselves as second-class citizens in the church, due to marital status or other things. The SP in particular reminded us that the purpose of the church organization is to bring souls to Christ, rather than to have nice facilities for us to congratulate ourselves on how well we’re doing.

However . . .

I thought one talk in my ward was quite indicative. The second speaker gave a twenty minute talk reprising Elder Holland’s Sunday message from last conference on Jesus Christ. Unfortunately she gave a twenty minute talk in about fifteen minutes, reading it so fast it was hard to process. It was especially hard to tell when she was quoting Elder Holland and when she was speaking for herself.

The indicative thing was her testimony at the end.

After speaking for fifteen minutes on Jesus Christ, she expressed her thanks for the church, the ward, her calling, her family, and the temple. The temple was the thing she was most thankful for. The temple. The temple? Nothing further about Christ, his sacrifice, the atonement, his example, the resurrection, the second coming, or anything else. She was willing to speak about Jesus Christ by assignment, but the things she was truly thankful for came from the institutional church and its claims to authority. Jesus Christ didn’t make the list.

Fast-forward to the youth meetings of ward conference, and again the youth of the church are tremendously inspiring. Their testimonies and their devotion to what they have been taught are truly remarkable, given the things going on around them.

Our stake theme for the year comes from D&C 115:5 – “Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;”

Four youth were invited in advance to testify about the ways in which they have let their light shine forth. Following their testimonies the stake YM and YW presidents were asked to come up, and a member of the stake presidency closed the meeting with his own testimony. All spoke eloquently and from the heart about their commitment to the gospel. I was thinking about their comments as I walked out to the car.

And then it hit me.

All but one of the youth and all of the adults talked mainly about the Word of Wisdom, with some comments about personal standards.

The way they let their light shine forth was by not drinking alcohol or smoking, by not using profanity or looking at pornography. All they talked about was their personal standards. Nothing about service, love, tolerance of others, charity, relieving the wants of the poor, or any of the myriad of things Jesus actually taught. Nothing about exemplifying the life of Jesus Christ in any way. Primarily about following the Word of Wisdom, and secondarily about exemplifying standards of morality.

I keep coming back to John 13:35 – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

We should be known as followers of Jesus Christ, not for our superior morality, but for our sacrificial love for others. I have trouble believing that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross to pay the price for me drinking a cup of coffee or smoking a cigarette. The Word of Wisdom wasn’t even strictly observed in the church until the early 20th century, yet it and our standards of morality and dress is the centerpiece of who we are for most people, in and out of the church.

I have to wonder if I want to continue to be a part of a church that encourages people to focus on such a skewed version of the gospel.
Monkey in the Middle –-

I often find myself torn between conflicting influences as I try to figure out where the Lord is trying to lead me. One day last week was indicative. I started my day out with the latest Ensign as my morning scripture study. I listened to an inspiring sermon from the pastor of an evangelical church I follow. I was uplifted by a spiritual thought sent to me courtesy of the Episcopal News Service.

I sometimes see myself at the crossroads of three distinct influences these days.

The focus on morality, personal cleanliness, and devotion to God from the LDS church resonates with me strongly. The sense of mission of the members is very compelling.

In my inner mind, I tend to express myself mostly like an evangelical Christian. I made the decision to commit my life to Christ on 29 April 2005, and that decision was transformational. Jesus is my savior, and I am a broken vessel. I owe him everything, and I place absolutely all my hopes for future happiness on his grace and forgiveness. Not on my own righteousness, priesthood ordinances, temple marriage, or anything else. My entire hope for the future comes from Jesus Christ and not on my own strength or righteousness.

The one challenge I have with the first two paths is that I am suddenly no longer a biblical fundamentalist or primarily a moral or social conservative. I believe the bible to be a record primarily of what people thought God was trying to tell them, with the inherent inaccuracies of decades, and in some cases centuries of oral transmission. I believe the bible message to be inspired, but not inerrant. There are too many internal contradictions for me to believe that it’s literally word-for-word inspired. There are too many cultural things like women keeping their heads covered in church mixed in with more timeless messages for it to be totally obvious which is which. That’s where the openness of the Episcopal church comes in. For me the Episcopal church seems to establish a framework of worship centered on the Book of Common Prayer and elements of an almost Buddhist mysticism that turn our hearts towards a connection to the divine, while allowing wide latitude for interpreting what the scriptures say to us. This is a framework I can operate within without having to clench my teeth at many of the messages from the pulpit. This is a faith community where I can speak my mind without looking over my shoulder for the doctrinal inquisition.

Imagine a road intersection with three roads coming into it, like a wheel with three spokes, and you’ll get a good idea how I feel most of the time. Accidents and emergency vehicles seem inevitable.

For awhile I had the idea that I would be led to choose between one of these paths. Now I am beginning to wonder. I draw so much strength from all three that my testimony feels like a 12 cylinder engine some days. Maybe where I am being led is to remain in the middle, drawing from the strengths of all three traditions . . . but how to keep from being pulled apart – that’s the critical question.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I just can't help but find this hypocritical, considering Elder Nelson is married to two women "for time and all eternity". I don't necessarily take a position on celestial polygamy one way or the other, but how does he stand there and defend marriage as being between "a man and a woman" knowing he'll have one woman to rub his feet and another to rub his shoulders for time and all eternity? One to cook and one to do dishes? One to wash and one to iron?

Stand up for what you believe in, man! Defend your harem in front of God and country and the media, but don't make like an Evangelical monogamist.,15503,4028-1-23503,00.html
I Want to be a Fundamentalist –-

My son graduates from high school this weekend, and we attended a baccalaureate service this past weekend. It was held in one of the two largest megachurches in our county.

What a beautiful building! It was like being in a hotel. Dark wood paneling, carpeting, chandeliers, the whole nine yards. The main sanctuary was large enough by my estimate to hold well over a thousand people. It had a hard-wood floor large enough for two full-size basketball courts side by side with plenty to spare, populated by comfortable stackable chairs. The choir seats were generous in number, the lighting and sound system were professional and well run. Wife of Bath pointed out that this wasn’t even intended to be the main building. It was an auditorium, with the main building with permanent seats yet to be built.

There were racks of literature out, and everything about this church radiated confidence. There was a small bookstore featuring study materials for a wide range of biblical studies.

The students who spoke were wonderful, talking about the results of giving their lives to Christ in hopes he would make more of them than they could. Their faith was strong, their testimonies resolute, and their countenances shining with the light of the Lord.

I felt instantly at home. These people expressed themselves the way I think and am sometimes able to express. They didn’t believe, they knew as a result of many personal experiments with faith and with the Word. They just radiated joy and faith. It was so, so reminiscent of the best of the LDS people.

I picked up a statement of faith from a brochure rack, and I was immediately hit by the following:

“We believe that the Bible as originally written was verbally and plenary inspired, is the product of spirit-controlled men and therefore, is truth without any mixture of error. We believe the Bible to be the center of true Christian unity and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions shall be tried.”

And I found myself struck out on the first pitch.

Even as true believing as I ever was in the LDS church, I was aware of inconsistencies in the bible. I don’t think it’s possible to claim the bible as being free from error, when even the resurrection stories between the four gospels don’t match. Jesus’ own words are not consistently rendered between the gospels. Does that mean the bible is without worth? Absolutely not! But I don’t see how it’s possible to claim the bible is free from error and word-for-word inspired, when its issues are obvious. I think the general themes are obvious, but we can’t allow ourselves to get hung up on the literal correctness of individual sentences taken out of context.

The thing I have really lost in my journey out of the mainstream of the LDS church is that sense of confidence in the absolute correctness of what we have. For so long my testimony was built on that confidence that God had one plan and one church, and I was a part of it. There was a sense of plain truth there that inspired me and those around me with a sense of mission, much like the students at the baccalaureate, and I’m sure much like the members of the church I attended this past weekend. I loved that sense of surety, of building the Kingdom of God on the earth.

I don’t have that any more, and I want it back.

My faith in God and in the redeeming mission of Jesus Christ is as strong as it has ever been. I can stand up and testify about giving my life to Christ, about Him as the way, the truth, and the life, and I can do that with confidence. Much beyond that, and I’m in trouble. The details often seem shrouded in mystery these days. Which passages of the bible really reflect what Jesus said, and which ones reflect the best efforts of oral tradition to preserve them until they could be written down? Which things are timeless, and which things are cultural? Was Jesus really trying to start a single church, or was he transmitting religious, moral, and ethical values that could be incarnated in many different ways?

I want to be a confident fundamentalist again, to bear testimony of a single doctrinal statement, of a single people, of a certain way of building the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to be rock solid sure about what God wants me to do. I want to be free from doubt about the details.

And I just can’t do it . . .

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I include this mainly because of the title of this blog. I got this via the Episcopal News Service. Why don't we talk about things like this in General Conference, and instead choose generally to focus on things that reinforce the authority of the church? Should I choose a path that fills my heart with Jesus' teachings, or the path that binds me ever more tightly into the earthly organization?

Grow in Love
by Sarah Knoll-Williams

A smart young mother did a very smart thing. After she poured a full glass of milk, she set it before her daughter. As her daughter reached for it, the mother stretched out her hand and knocked it over. Milk was everywhere; all over the table, onto the floor, making a puddle. The daughter looked up at her mother in complete shock. The mother smiled down at her daughter.

"What happened?" she asked the little girl.

"You spilled the milk!" the daughter replied.

"The milk?" asked the mother in mock confusion. "Why didn't juice come out of the glass?"

"There was no juice in there! You put in milk!" the daughter squealed.

"Ohhhh!" the mother laughed. "You mean, whatever we put in the glass is what comes out when the glass is spilled?" As they cleaned up the spill, the mother spoke to her daughter. "We fall down, too," she said. "When something goes wrong, whatever is inside us is what comes out. If you are angry and someone pushes you down, your anger will spill out like the milk. If you are full of love, love will spill out instead."

Jesus says, "What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart" (Matt 15:18).

The last time someone pushed you down, what came spilling out?

It is hard to fill our own glass with love. When I draw near to God in scripture and prayer, God fills my glass with good things. I have known people whose glass was filled with love, and it often overflowed into mine. If my glass is already full of selfishness, impatience, or anger, there is no room for love from God or anyone else. Have you looked in your glass? What's in there?

Our heart is like our own roots. Our lips, our hands, our feet -- these are like leaves on the stem. You can tell the roots by how the leaves look. You can tell the state of my heart by what I say to you and do for you. In Ephesians we learn to pray for each other "that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, as we are being rooted and grounded in love" (Eph 3:17). If our roots are planted and watered in love, if love fills our glass, we will not be afraid of falling down. When we do fall, our good things from God will spill out.

Ephesians urges us to grow in love because we invite God to tend the garden. Jesus says, I am the vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes, to make it bear more fruit" (John 15:1-2). I urge you to offer your branch to be pruned, and see what fruit God makes through you. Let's offer ourselves to God with an empty glass, that we would be filled with good things. If we grow in love, we grow in God. Out of God's great love, "my cup overflows" (Psalm 23:5).

As long as we are living with others on a daily basis, we will fall down. Some may push us; we may push others. Prepare with me to fall down and spill a full glass of love. Prepare with me to have a cup that overflows for others.