Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Humility: the great paradox!

This post is the fifth installment in a 15-part series based on the following quote from Joseph Smith.

"The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation. After a person has 
  1. faith in Christ, 
  2. repents of his sins, and is 
  3. baptized for the remission of his sins and 
  4. receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him 
  5. continue to humble himself before God, 
  6. hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and 
  7. living by every word of God, and 
  8. the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that 
  9. the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to 
  10. receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints. [This other Comforter is no more nor less] than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even 
  11. He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and 
  12. the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and 
  13. the Lord will teach him face to face, and 
  14. and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; 
  15. and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn." (TPJS p. 150-151)
I love this quote. Joseph eloquently summarizes the fulness of the Gospel and gives me a vision of what Jesus offers all of us. Through this description of the Plan of Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I've experienced a renewal of, and desire for, faith, repentance, prayer, worship, charity, divine presence and service. I've come to realize that I need to come to Jesus, that His arms are open, and the He employs no servant there. (This brings up the role and place of His servants, but that's a hot issue that won't be addressed in this post.)

Before I venture in to the realm of humility, I'd like to share a thought on the aspect of calling these benchmarks 'steps'. When we climb a ladder or a stair, we pass each rung or step only once on our way up. These steps are, in my mind, somewhat different. For every step you take, the ones you've passed are still essential to get to the next one. That's why faith is at the very start - without it you can't do anything and you've got to exercise it all the time. Repentance is also something that's engrained in every other milestone on your journey towards the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. Surely the nature of repentance changes as you progress, but the principle will be with you as long as there is something of sub-celestial quality in your person. Joseph translated Hebr. 6:1 to read: "Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." This ties in very well with the quote now discussed.

When I first numbered the steps in the Gospel of Christ, I found 15 of them. But now, I believe that step 5 and 6 are one and the same thing; humility being the label, and the hunger and thirst after righteousness the substance. 

Humility and religion

I believe that religion, before cunning men annexed and incorporated it, was a matter between you and God. It was a matter of spirit and faith. Religion should be about this, about the answer and solution to our brokenness, desire and need for enduring relationships and peace amidst turmoil. Unfortunately, religion has evolved (devolved?) to a question of being right (or, at least more right than they). Brene Brown, in her awesome TED-talk "The Power of Vulnerability", said: "Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. 'I'm right, you're wrong. Shut up.'"

When it's more important to be (factually) right, instead of acknowledging the lack of righteousness we all experience, religion has lost its transforming power. By then, it has gone from spirituality to factuality, and is based on the fear of disturbing the status quo. My experience from spending time among different groups on the Internet, is that almost everyone wants to be with people who can affirm ones worldview, and that 'dissenters' are frowned upon, and often kicked out. Why? Because they challenge the beliefs of the group. If the group firmly believes that they have the truth, any and every idea that challenges that is discarded as untrue.

This is a question with a complex answer. People sincerely believe and want to protect those beliefs. That's understandable. The essence of the problem isn't the faulty ideas or incorrect assumptions and beliefs, but rather the fact that we haven't been taught a healthy skepticism nor the skill of questioning in search of more truth. Or, put in other words, following authority and accepting the conclusions someone else have come to has replaced the fearless search for truth, no matter where this truth is found, and the collective refusal to 'be acted upon' (2 Ne 2). 

We've inherited a collective denial of free agency, instead of a wholehearted embrace of it. Why is this? My belief is that we don't want to get it wrong. Nevertheless, this is a fact of life. We also need to understand this if we are to be humble. It's important to understand that we will get it wrong sometimes, and that that's ok. God would rather have us use our agency and get it wrong, than have us sit in thoughtless stupor and not get it wrong (as if the thoughtless stupor is a good place to be found in).

Pride - the common enemy!

I've been full of pride my whole life. 

I used to take great pride in the fact that I am a Mormon, that I know my scriptures, I've served 'my' mission, and made covenants in the temple. I've stood up proclaiming that I know this or that to be true. Now, I can't do that anymore. This doesn't mean that the reasons for pride are gone. 

It's as easy to take pride in orthodoxy as it is to take pride in "thinking-out-of-the-boxy". It's as easy to take pride in 'knowledge' of spiritual things as it is to take pride in your lack of faith in things "proven" false. It's as easy to take pride in being in the Church as it is to take pride in having left it behind.

Pride inflates you, whereas humility raises you higher. When you're proud, all you've got are your own two feet. The humble, on the other hand, realizes that standing on someone else's shoulders changes everything.

Humility and the lack of righteousness 

Humility is hunger and thirst for the things of God. Hunger and thirst are, per definition, words that denote a lack of something. Humility therefore is, if nothing else, a realization of the need for and lack of God and his righteousness.

At the core of humility lies the acknowledgment that we are divine, but unable to feed and lift that divinity without the help of God. We can become great humans without God, but that's not enough to meet the end of our creation. The humble person has a clear view of the distance between the glory of God, on the one hand, and our fallenness on the other. This realization, without the atoning presence and nearness of Jesus, can crush us.

The other day, I saw "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" with my kids. The film doesn't do the books justice, but it moved me, and inspired and motivated me, nonetheless. One thing I love with the story of Narnia, is the nearness and direct access these children have to Aslan. He's with them, he comforts them, and he wants to tell them their story. Throughout my life, Jesus has been very distant. He's been close by, all right, but there has always been one more commandment, one more act of service, one more prayer and one more meeting to attend to, before He would accept me. And there's been leaders in the way. As it turned out, I never got through. Waking up to our awful situation has been a game changer. But I can tell you–it's hard to wake up to God.

If we can't accept that God may call us to walk different paths, how can we consider ourselves humble enough to receive God's will for us, wherever it may lead us. If our minds are so fixed on the path we believe that someone else should walk, how could we possibly acknowledge that the one we're currently treading might be wrong for us.

Hungering and thursting after righteousness isn't the same thing as wanting to be right or to be done right by others. Do we want to be in the right, or are we more concerned about being right where and what God wants us to be right now?

Humility is keeping quiet when you would like to shout from the roof tops want, and opening your mouth in quiet defence of truth, love and compassion when God wants you to.

The humble, precepts of men and the paradox of faith

One challenge for the humble is to be watchful against precepts taught by men and open to those taught by the spirit (2 Ne. 28:14). How can we be vigilant in this regard? We need to compare what is taught to the standard of the scriptures and to our conscience, and to the divine voice within. And we need to always be open for the possibility that any mortal man or woman can be dead wrong. Oftentimes, we are tempted to judge new ideas against the backdrop of our prejudices. Any idea that doesn't conform to our way of thinking or our world view are esteemed as a thing of naught. Sub-celestial beings should avoid the illusion that "we have the truth" like the plague.

In 1 Ne. 13 we read that "the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them." (v. 16) One of the great paradoxes of Christianity, faith and even life itself, is evident in this verse: we are strong when we realize that we are weak. The same kind of paradox is expressed by Jesus when he said that "for whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it," (Luk. 9:24) and "whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Matt. 23:12) How can we explain the mechanism between humility and the power of the Lord?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Handbook-gate: Defending the doctrine of Christ against the Church

The new revised and updated policy leaked this past weekend doesn't affect me personally. Still, I'm deeply troubled.

For one thing, I'm troubled over the fact that I haven't thought twice about how this policy has been in place for muslim children and children of polygamists a long time. Maybe I should've reacted earlier. We all need to speak up for the weak, and not just the weak people of our choosing, but everyone that needs an advocate. That's why this meme is relevant.

I will try to address a few of the aspects that are disturbing in all of this. At the end, I will address what's, to my mind, is most serious for a Church called by the name of Christ.

The sneakiness

I understand why there wasn't a big press release. It's said to be a clarification that only led to a change in Handbook 1, a handbook most members don't even know exists. I don't know how they thought this would be received, but it seems clear that they didn't consider the risk that someone would leak it on the Internet. How anyone can underestimate the Internet in the year 2015 is amazing. T's equally unfathomable that anyone can overestimate the loyalty among employees in the COB or among leaders in bishoprics and stake presidencies in this day and age.

Instead of owning the situation, the Church is now involved in heavy damage control, and I fear that the credibility of the Church isn't what it used to be and never will be.

The quest for polygamy revisited - this time reversed!

My thoughts are brought back to the 1880's (or to what I've read about it). The Church did all it could to present polygamy as an essential part of the religion. In the end, the Church had to back down and stop practice it (even though the doctrine of plural marriage is very much in force). Today we see the same thing happening, but in reverse. We now do everything we can to keep people out of (our definition) of marriage.

This was shared on a Facebook-group. I don't know who wrote it (if you come around to read this, I hope you accept my apologies for borrowing your analysis.)

If anyone is wondering why the LDS church is taking this stand against same sex couples and their children, the answer is very simple: Dallin Oaks has been obsessed with religious freedom and the legal and theological infrastructure to support it. Oaks is in the background orchestrating a legal strategy to preserve the church's right to refuse to perform same sex marriages. If the church were to perform all other ordinances except marriage for same sex couples and their children, it could theoretically create a contextual precedent that would weaken the church's religious freedom to refuse to perform same sex marriages. That's why the church also included a statement that same sex marriage constitutes apostasy from the church. The LDS church is making a clear line of demarcation so that the church's position from cradle to grave is unmistakable and clear. This is a space where religious freedom and civil liberties collide. The church is bolstering its legal defense against the individual's right to a same sex marriage (in any church). It's a strategy against a long-term threat--a potential threat against the nature of the Mormon temple ceremony, which is the core of Mormon religious life.
This is no revelation; it's a policy change!

Elder Christoffersen was clear - this is not the result of inspiration from God! How can I say that? Well, for one, he never claimed it was. If no one claims that the Lord was involved, I won't assume that He was. This approach isn't widely accepted. Many members, who have defended the Church, say, in substance, the following:

Since my testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a true prophet of God is firm I have a testimony that he, and the apostles, are called of God, and that they speak for God. I don't need to know anything else. With this testimony, I feel peace that the leaders will lead the church according to God's will, not man's. Against this backdrop, there is no need to re-evaluate my testimony every time an issue arises because my testimony was established ages ago. We have been promised that God will not allow his prophets to lead us astray. I pray that I will be wise instead of learned.
In the last days the wheat will be separated from the tares.  
Our leaders are human. I won't let this fact shake me. Nor will I be shaken by any new policy or counsel from church leaders. 
As a youth I learned that when the light has moved from me, I'm the one who moved. It is my responsibility to look inside myself to get back to the light.  
If new policies, or any kind of guidance, rubs me wrong, I know that what I need to do is pray for peace and understanding, pray that the Lord will help change my heart.
In my mind, this is an attitude that is prevalent in today's Church and totally contrary to what elder Charles W. Penrose said in 1882. In my view, it's problematic.
President Wilford Woodruff is a man of wisdom and experience and we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe his personal views or utterances are revelations from God; and when ”Thus saith the Lord” comes from him, the Saints investigate it; they do not shut their eyes and take it down like a pill. When he brings forth light they want to comprehend it. Light, truth, intelligence, wisdom, progress, growth all the time - that is ”Mormonism” - to grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth. […] The Latter-day Saints are not blindly led by leaders or blindly directed by priests; but every man can receive the divine testimony in his own heart and be a priest in his own house. – Charles W. Penrose, Millenial Star 54:191
There are more quotes to the same effect.

People are permitted to assume that whatever comes from the COB is the word and will and mind of God and as good as, or even better, than scripture. This could be considered as dishonest. And if it is, it's serious.

All are equal before God, but some are more equal than others

The children of same-sex couples get special treatment from the Church. Whereas the children of murderers, rapists, sexual abusers, spouse abusers, abusers in general, adulterers, fornicators, heterosexual cohabitants, abandoners of family responsibilities etc. are welcome to be baptized (if these parents consent), the children of married same-sex couples can't be baptized, even if the parents are ok with it. The rationale? The desire to not expose the children to conflicting messages and causing them to stand between the lifestyle of the parents and the beliefs of the Church.

If we truly want children to not experience conflicting messages between Church and the home, thy don't we ban the use of TV,video games, the Internet and so forth. And why are the children of same-sex couples even allowed to visit Church (in reality, you don't have to be baptized in order for you to hear what's taught)? And when will the Church charge the home teachers to go into full surveillance of their families? I mean, we don't want the kids to hear one thing at home and something else in Church. If this policy is to be taken to its extreme, we are headed for Big Brother: Mormon Edition!

The destruction of Article of faith #

Not being allowed to receive the "saving" ordinance of baptism is, in my mind, equal to being punished. If this is done because of the sins of your parents, I'd almost consider it evil (at least medEVIL).
We [used to?] believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. - Joseph Smith in the Wentworth Letter
This change should have been brought up in General Conference for the sustaining by Church members.

The thought of original guilt is actually about Adam and Eve. Still, the thought resurfaces every now and then. Regretfully it seems to have taken hold of the Church in a modified version.

The denial of the doctrine of Christ

This is the most important in my mind.

In 3 Ne. 27:8-11, we read:
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you; And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it. But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.
What is the gospel of Jesus? What is his doctrine? Later in the same chapter, He answers this question himself.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; (v. 20-21; read v. 13-21 for the longer explanation)
Jesus taught the same thing when he first came to the Nephites.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine. And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine. (3 Ne 11:31-35)

He then added this most important warning.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandyfoundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (v. 39-40)
I dare to say that no one is exempt from this warning. Not the Pope, not your home teachers, not the Bishop, nor the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

And this, makes me seriously concerned. Have we just seen the Church turn its back to the doctrine of its founder? Have we just seen the Church adopt anti-christ policies? If yes, we've witnessed something historical, and we will see the Church have "joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return."

This is the chance for us all to root ourselves even more firmly on the rock of our Redeemer, for he alone is might to save.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Mitt inlägg i debatten: Ett försvarstal för Jesu lära

Till alla det berör:

Det har under helgen förts en intensiv diskussion och debatt på internet och Facebook. Den jag tänker på gäller tilläggen till handbok 1 gällande personer i samkönade äktenskap samt deras barns tillgång till evangeliets frälsande förrättningar. Många är upprörda, andra inte, vissa tycker det är helt galet, andra ser en vishet i ändringarna.

Det är inte min avsikt att reda ut detta en gång för alla. Jag vill dock lyfta min röst för att försvara Jesu lära.

Jesus förklarade sin lära för nephiterna: ”Se, sannerligen, sannerligen säger jag er: ”Jag skall förkunna min lära för er. Och detta är min lära, och det är den lära som Fadern har givit mig. Och jag vittnar om Fadern och Fadern vittnar om mig, och den Helige Anden vittnar om Fadern och mig. Och jag vittnar om att Fadern befaller alla människor överallt att omvända sig och tro på mig. Och var och en som tror på mig och blir döpt, han skall bli frälst, och det är de som skall ärva Guds rike. Och var och en som inte tror på mig och inte blir döpt skall bli fördömd. Sannerligen, sannerligen säger jag er att detta är min lära, och jag vittnar om att den kommer från Fadern, och var och en som tror på mig tror även på Fadern. Och för honom skall Fadern vittna om mig, ty han skall besöka honom med eld och med den Helige Anden.” (3 Ne. 11:31-35)

För att det inte skulle råda några oklarheter la Jesus till följande: ”Sannerligen, sannerligen säger jag er att detta är min lära, och var och en som bygger på den bygger på min klippa, och helvetets portar skall inte få makt över dem. Och var och en som förkunnar mer eller mindre än detta och påstår att det är min lära, han är av den onde och är inte byggd på min klippa, utan han bygger på en grund av sand, och helvetets portar står öppna för att ta emot sådana när översvämningar kommer och vindarna slår mot dem.” (3 Ne. 11:39-40)

Att förvägra någon som tror på Jesus Kristus, omvänder sig och vill ta emot dop står i strid med Jesu lära. Ingen får lägga till eller ta bort ifrån denna.

Denna aspekt av situationen vill jag lägga fram, för den gör mig orolig på riktigt.