Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hiding behind numbers.....

"To trample under-foot the commandments of God is a fearful thing to undertake in solitude, so the coward seeks to be upheld by a support group."

Thought that quote was so good it deserved it's own post.  There's a lot of truth to it.   A scriptural example is Mosiah 17:11; 29:22-23.  King Noah was almost persuaded to repent, but then got persuaded otherwise by his support group who convinced him the prophet was the one in error.   

How much easier is it to do what you know you shouldn't, when you have a support group saying there is nothing wrong with it?  

That first quote at the top is from a friend's 4 part mini study on Abinadi from the Book of Mosiah.  

It's sparked a few additional thoughts.  What about hiding behind people with powerful positions?  What about hiding behind religious leaders and their decisions?  It's so easy to hide behind these things, and neglect our duty, conscience, and commandments of God.  

A couple of years ago I heard Elder Bednar explain that many members of the Church in Africa eat only one meal a day.  
Last year Elder Neil L. Anderson gave a talk at BYU in which he explained that the average per capita income in the United States is $33k, while in the Philippines it is $1k.  The average Philipino spends 36% of his/her income on food.  The average American spends 6%.  Recently food prices have increased significantly throughout the world.  For us, such food price increases are inconveniences.  For poor people, like the average Latter-day Saint in the Philippines, it can easily become an urgent matter.

Does it then make sense to hide behind and or jump on board with a decision to spend billions of dollars on a shopping mall in downtown SLC while members of our own household of faith suffer for want of basic necessities?  It doesn't make a lot of sense.  Even the statement that "no tithing funds were used" rings a bit hollow.  What funds were or were not used isn't really the point.  What business does a church bearing  the name of Christ have meddling in the worlds extravagant and elite shopping centers while their own members in other lands go hungry?  People should be drawn to Christ because of the truth of his message, not because they have been lured in by riches, and giant spacious marketplaces.  But maybe I missed the Gospel marketing course in seminary.... who knows.     

There may be strength in numbers...but again, we should always decide if it's strength to go towards or away from the truth.  I ask myself if God's church in the past has been the mastermind behind building shopping malls in big cities.  In the scriptures I don't read about a shopping mall, or 
entrepreneurial type of Church of Jesus Christ...   The two things are contrary.  

Scriptures repeatedly warn about spending money on that which will canker.  They warn us about loving riches more than the poor.  No human is perfect, and exempt from error.  I don't think anyone makes perfect decisions, all the time, and in all cases.  It doesn't make them bad, it just means we all need to find the truth, and then support it, regardless of other voices and popular opinions.  
We cannot hide forever behind numbers, or behind others.  We have to face the truth individually.    

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Not being manipulated

A few years ago a mentor of mine spoke of spiritual manipulation.  I had never heard that particular wording used.   I've heard of abuse of all kinds, abuse of power, using an extreme religion to control others, manipulation and psychological control and all that kind of thing.  We've all heard of it.  Some of it you can see in the news.  

One thing that was brought to my attention that I thought worth writing about is how often spiritual/religious ideas or teachings are used in a way that manipulates or controls another.  Not what you would see in some cultish scene of a Hollywood movie.  I'm referring to the more subtle, pervasive, and little by little degrading kind of thing.  It's something each of us should look at.          

Most folks I know would not spiritually manipulate another knowingly.  It's that so often "we know not what we do".   We mimic traditions, cultural patterns, and accepted norms of behavior and rarely stop to consider if they in fact could be skewed or wrong.  You can't trust everything you're taught, or everything that was modeled to you.  Just because everyone does it, even for years, doesn't mean it's not an error or misleading.   
I'm not referring to anything big, or intentionally sinister here..... I'm referring to subtle interpersonal tendencies we all probably encounter or hear of frequently.  The mentor who talked to me about this was respectful, kind, showed long-suffering, showed forth pure knowledge, love and used the tools I find in scripture.  I was persuaded to consider what was being presented to me.  There was light to it, even though it caused me to see errors in and around me.  I've never forgotten it and it's made a difference in how I think.  
Using spiritual teachings, references, or "authority" as a means to either gain compliance, credibility, or influence the thinking or feeling of another "in any degree of unrighteousness" is not good, it's manipulative.  It could be called "using the name of God in vain" in one senses of that phrase because the action misrepresents God. 

D&C 121  says: "That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man."

This kind of stuff could show up as someone using a large church calling as evidence or reason for someone else to trust them in a business deal.  How many scams are perpetuated due to the network and "trust" church members have with each other?  Or with a local leader?  

It could also be a simple communication tactic that uses a spiritual idea or teaching as a "trump" card to establish credibility, or to gain some advantage, or put someone in a position of submission to further a personal agenda. "God told me this, therefore you would do well to...." or  "My answer to prayer was that you need to.... "  We could call those "spiritually suggestive messages".  If you've ever been around such a thing, it can leave a pit in your stomach.   

One other of these manipulative tactics worth recognizing is when someone in a position of "spiritual authority" uses that authority as the backing for their position, and reason why someone should show compliance or obedience to them.  The scriptures say unrighteous tactics such as this causes the person to loose or forfeit priesthood power, but that may not stop some folks from continuing to act as though they still have it.  So we should be aware.       

At the end of the day, so many scriptures teach that the true practice, the true test and display of pure power is the long suffering, the meekness, the respect and honor for someone elses's choices.   The true kind is having pure knowledge, knowledge which can aid and shed light and increase the mind's understanding.  I've seen people use these, and it works.  Not all the time, on everyone, under all circumstances.  In fact using God's tools gets persecution a lot of the time.  But the tool is correct, and you can sense it. 

The more lack a person feels internally, the more fuel there often is to engage in the wrong tools and engage in manipulation.  But if we can reconnect with our creator, and obtain a promise from Him, then the lack can be filled by Christ and His atonement.  Then the tools scriptures teach may make a whole lot of sense, and become natural to use as an expression of the grace, mercy and forgiveness God granted you.

I remember as a missionary there were many subtle small tactics that were used frequently, many of them I look back at and feel bad about.  They were not intended to cause harm, and would probably be considered "normal", "understandable", and their usage was actually so common that we sometimes were actually taught or told to use them with investigators.  I'm not proud of it now. I see the error of it.  Semi manipulative tactics never worked anyway.  Lack of understanding, or fear for me is what fueled the using of incorrect Gospel methods.  The more I attempted to feel close to God's spirit, the less those tools seemed to surface.  Somehow God manages to work in spite of us at times.    

1 John 4:18 : There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. 

Fear hath torment.  I think fear is the energy behind manipulation.  I considered how destructive the little spiritual manipulations are in the long run and decided it important enough to write about.   May we not be manipulated, or manipulate but instead show forth pure knowledge, patience and charity.  Everyone prefers those things anyway.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Still small voice

One of the Holy Ghost's titles is "the still small voice".   

1 Kings 19:11-13 "And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before theLord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before theLordbut the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

 12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.  

 13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?"

I sometimes see young kids like 4-6 years old that like to make sure everyone knows when they come into a room or arrive at a house.  They like to announce it so there is no confusion who has arrived.   It's usually done in a fun way.  And I enjoy it.      

When I read scriptures like the above, I have to stop and consider how the Spirit comes into a room. The still small voice to me doesn't always make an announcement.  The fact that it's still and small suggests calling attention to itself is not high on the agenda.  You have to be quiet, and listen.  The less crap in your head from the internet the better.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Undeserving

Before class started yesterday we were having our typical pre air traffic class discussion. Including plenty of sports talk, some jokes about different players, and predictions about the upcoming basketball games.

Since we had a few minutes before actual class start time, one of the instructors told us about the moral dilemma he had the other day. He commented that his wife is the type that always gives money to the people standing out on the road or in parking lots holding signs asking for money. He on the other hand is more reluctant. His reason for being that way is because he was afraid he was not doing them any favor, and maybe even hurting them by giving them money. After that he clarified saying that if someone was in need, he would not hesitate to offer help. It was that these side of the road instances were not always clear. He worried that they used it for all the wrong things, or were simply lying or scamming people and he didn't know if he wanted to support that. But lately his wife had persuaded him that it wasn't for him to judge what the person does with the money it was simply his responsibility, as stated in scriptures, to give and show charity. He conceded that the scriptures were after all pretty clear about the matter, so he was making an effort, and trying to give more.

That's the background. Then came the story. He was on his way to the store a few days ago to make some copies. He only had a 100$ bill in his wallet. He saw someone outside the store with a cardboard sign, that read that he was disabled, had Parkinson's disease, a wife and kids, and "please help". He decided that he would get some change by making his copies, and on his way out would offer the person a 20$.

So a minute or two after entering the store he had finished, had some change and went outside intending to give to the person. But the previous beggar was now gone, and a new one had taken over a very nearby spot, and the new beggar was holding the exact same sign, and he was also presenting a bit shaky which would be typical of Parkinson's disease. He laughed and wondered if they have rotating shifts and all use the same sign.

The class laughed at the irony of the story. Here's someone who is trying to overcome his reluctance to donate because he wonders if the beggars asking are being dishonest, or mishandling or misusing what they are given, and then this happens which increased the doubts and reluctance to give all the more.

It was just interesting. As I sat there I wondered about giving, I wondered about giving to someone who in our measurement may in fact not deserve it or be worthy of it. Which is what this dilemma sort of boils down to. If the person is perceived to no deserve it, there is usually reluctance to give. I think the purpose behind the scriptures teaching to give to the poor isn't only about the poor, it also has much to do with the giver as well.

I thought about this off and on during our breaks. By the end I concluded that there is something very Christian (in the pure sense of that word) about giving to someone who's asking, and who in reality does not deserve it or isn't worthy of it. Christ died for sinners. There is no doubt about the unworthy, undeserving, sinful nature of the people for whom he offered the sacrifice. There was no doubt. It was certain, they did not, do not merit it, and many would mistreat, mock, and not accept it anyway. This is after all a fallen world. So if Christ died for everyone, including even those who were in the act of killing him, then I can see why the scriptures would identify that we should also give to others who we may perceive as not deserving it.  Christ died for us while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). So it may in fact be important how we act towards beggars who we may think don't deserve it. It can say something about our relationship to the Atonement. How much did we grasp what had been done for us, if what was done produces no change of heart in our own behavior towards others?

We have the chance to, in the right Spirit, offer a gesture that could be a small similitude of Christ's sacrifice. Small things repeated over time can show a lot. It may one time strike a chord, or prick the other persons heart on some way. But even if it doesn't, that too would would be following, in a small way, the example set by Christ who sacrificed for people who would never choose to value fully what was offered by Him.

So if Christ gave the ultimate sacrifice in spite of the unworthiness of the recipients, that says something. And it's not something you see very often in this world. It would make sense that we too can act, within the sphere of our own daily life, in a way that also shows a degree of that unconditional charity. It makes sense that when we receive of God, we then are able to give of God having first received. The beggar on the road might offer us one of those chances, because in another sense we are all beggars.

Evaluating if they deserve it, or how they'll use it, or if there is perhaps some nonliving organization we can donate to that will relieve our conscience of having to give to the beggars..... while thinking about all that we may miss what is right in front of us. I mean perhaps donating to those organizations would be good too, but we shouldn't overlook the human being in front of us asking for help. At the end of the day it's probably a personal thing, which should be guided by the Spirit.

Everyone can choose how they view this. Maybe helping others, without regard for their "worthiness" would be freeing.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More than one meaning

I've always been interested in things that have hidden meaning.  Meaning that you don't notice upon first glance.

The scriptures I think are one of the best places for it.  Passages I think are intentionally written and given in such a way so as to have many layers of meaning.  Sometimes people only want or think of one meaning, or a traditional meaning, and then give it no further thought.  To me that's one quick way to make the scriptures boring.  The alternative for me, has been enjoyable.  

Here is one that has many meanings and which I found interesting.

Mosiah 4:1
"And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them."

King Benjamin has spoken with "the Angel of the Lord".  He doesn't tell us who it is, but instead uses the the hidden meaning phrase "Angel of the Lord".  There is no hesitation about telling the audience this was a special message.  It did not originate with King Benjamin, he makes that clear.  It was not sentiment, or inspirational stories or good principles.  This was an actual Angelic being delivering a message.  This is the kind of thing you'd expect a prophet to speak of.  King Benjamin was not just someone in a high position, he communed with Angels.  It's right there in plain English for believer, member, non member and non believer alike to read.  It's an open claim to have a message from an Angel and it is not clouded in vague words, or implied meaning trying to be politically correct. 

But that's not the part I wanted to talk about.  The part that I wanted to write about was:
"and behold they had fallen to the earth"    

First glance you might imagine a group of people kneeling or otherwise having suddenly become positioned on the ground.  But can it mean anything else?  I think it does.

"Fallen to the earth".  That reminds me of Adam and Eve and the fall of mankind.  The Fall did in fact occur.  We fell three degrees from where God resides and now find ourselves on the earth, in a fallen telestial state.  This is the story of all of us.

When the message from the Angel prompts these people to "fall to the earth" it's almost as if, in that moment, they realized a truth which previously existed, but which had not dawned on them as yet.  The physical act of falling to the ground perhaps mirroring another kind of "fall" to the earth.  Thanks to the God sent message, it woke them up to the reality of their situation.  They perhaps realized that all the talk about the "natural man" from the sermon was about them.  It clicked.  They came into possession of a true message which helped them appreciate their true "fallen" state.  The purity of the Word of God could be compared to the impurity of the natural man world.  That understanding or appreciation would well identify the fall, and the immediate need to seek forgiveness, purity, mercy, and the Son of God.  The people had both fallen to the earth, and fell to the earth, both literal meanings.  The one mirroring the other.       

The next verse seems to suggest this line of thinking is correct:  "And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created  heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men."

I wonder who they were talking to when they cried aloud with one voice?  Was it to King Benjamin?  Does a man have power to grant what they cried for?   

They all cried?  With one voice?  "One voice" could mean they all spoke the exact same words and syllables .....  It could also mean they were unified and "it was given them what they should say".  Reminds us of the Temple.  The meaning being they were unified in their Spirit guided desire regardless of which air vibrations their vocal chords may have created to express it.  More of a heart unity thing, than a vocal chord uniformity thing.  

The next verse says The Spirit of The Lord came in response to their petition.  That, for  me, answers to whom they were addressing the petition.  It was not to King Benjamin the mouthpiece, it was to God, the source and power behind the truth of the message. 

Joseph Smith's experiences, and angelic ministers mirrors this pattern of receiving a message and experiencing it's immediate effect on him.  As this message did for the people listening to King Benjamin.   Restored ceremonies depict angels conversing with man and giving them sacred knowledge which is necessary for them to be able to walk back to the presence of God.  We see this in both scripture, ceremony, and the history of Joseph.  But you have to look at it that way or you miss the layers.

As a side note it seems important to be open to the possibility of God offering such things in your life, otherwise all of this just looks like some historical record of some random people who's experience sounds interesting but has no real connection to you or I.  The fullness of the Gospel isn't just watching General Conference every 6 months.  It needs to connect you directly to heaven.   So the conclusion of all these meaningful scriptures seems to suggest YOU need to get an authentic message from God.  The Book of Mormon claims to be one.  I have not always viewed it that way, nor read it with that in mind.  But it makes a big difference when I do.       

A semi true message or to be 99% isn't any good if the rest is misleading.  We can have confidence in the Book of Mormon.  Only faith in an authentic message will produce the outcome God intended.  I think faith exists among the Latter Day Saints, and I think many are hungry to hear such things and be a part of authentic spiritual experiences like this one with King Benjamin and his people.  I would go so far as to say some are starving.  Good historical morals and principles are great, but again, faith in them can only go so far.  A true and authentic message from the Lord can create a lasting connection and unspeakable outcomes.....  It fills the soul.  The other, or watered down correlated messages seems to leave people malnourished.            

Food for thought.  A true message can have an immediate effect. 

Side-note:  At first glance the photo at the beginning of this post looks like 5 geese.... but there are actually 7.  You miss it unless you looked closely. 

(Photo of the geese taken by David Christenson and used here with his permission)