Saturday, December 15, 2018

Righteous Tradition vs Mindless Addiction

One of the most interesting ironies I have recently observed is how easy it has become to blur the lines between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. To me, the most fool proof measuring stick for figuring that all out is our beliefs and motives. I'm talking about digging down right to the core our ourselves by biting the bullet, taking one habit or tradition at a time and meticulously winnowing through the details of what our life might be if that habit were discarded or exchanged.

With some things that process can be emotionally excruciating while, with others, wonderfully and joyfully liberating, giving us a wide open door to elevate ourselves exponentially to higher planes of thinking and more joyful ways of living.

What I want to focus on with this is the same principle outlined in Alma 5:19 and Alma 41:3. Here are those verses, with the general principle in italics:

  • "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?"
  • "And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good."
The seemingly ever present theological debate about faith vs. works relates to this as well. C.S. Lewis once said that asking whether faith or works is more necessary for salvation is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is needed more. The premise of the question itself, as Lewis alludes to, is flawed from the start. It's the same thing with having clean hands and a pure heart with our habits and traditions.

We may be doing really good things or even merely okay things that are innocent enough and be considered in line enough with the Lord's will for the time being. However, according to those verses, even if we are outwardly doing everything right but doing it without being anxiously and lovingly engaged in a good cause within our hearts, it is, as Moroni might say (Moroni 7:8), "the same as if [you] had retained [your good works]." Moroni, in this context, even takes it a step further and says that if your "gifts", or in this case, good works, are done with a bad attitude, it is "counted evil before God"! Wow! That's a pretty heavy idea to consider. It sounds to me like paying tithing, living the Word of Wisdom and the law of Chastity, attending the temple, fulfilling our callings, doing our genealogy and temple work and studying our scriptures without really wanting to or even doing it grudgingly is counted as evil!

Does this mean we never do a good thing unless our motives are pure? I doubt it. A good way for God to train us to have pure motives is to do things that, coupled with His grace, will help us develop those motives.

However, the first concern that came to my mind as I happened upon this idea recently was pretty poignant. I've been trying for years to get some specific thought impulses out of my brain that have been plaguing me for way too long, and no matter how long I have remained outwardly obedient in that area, I have still not figured out how to change those impulses. I am aware that the solution is based on a sound and constant understanding and study of the doctrine of Christ and prayer and, thankfully, I am in the process of learning to apply that. I know that only Jesus Christ can cause such a might and lasting change in my mind.

This goes the same way the other way around. No one ever said the road to hell was paved with good results. Elder Oaks said the following. "The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done." He instead declared, "It is an acknowledgement of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become." I think another way to put that is that final judgement is a exposure of the result within us of every thought, belief, desire, action, or lack thereof.

Here's where I tie this into the comparison between righteous tradition and mindless addiction. I believe the best way to determine which of our habits is which is to do a raw, no-holds-barred confrontation with our reasons for those habits and our feelings and thoughts immediately before and after participating in them. In some cases this might mean that those merely okay things and even some good things need to exchanged for something better if they are not actively contributing to our spiritual change and growth. A few entries ago, I mentioned that one of the ways in which Lorraine and I are changing things up a bit for Christmas is by not being so attached to the idea that we have to have a Christmas tree among other things. For me this was slightly hard to accept but after some discussion with my wife I realized that I was only attached to idea of having the tree up because it looks pretty and gets me in the mood for presents and eggnog, etc.

As hard as it was for me to realize that my first thought when seeing a Christmas tree was never anything like "I am thankful for my Savior and how that tree reminds me of Him," it was quite freeing to be able to now make room for much much better things. Therefore, this year I have looked ways to replace that tradition with something that actually does bring my thoughts to my Lord and Redeemer, finding more ways to serve others and deliberately make my prayers more intentional and detailed. Of course, if Christmas trees do draw your mind to Jesus Christ, then all the power to you in that symbol of the Savior, for you.

At certain points in my life I've also identified things that everyone should absolutely be doing no matter what - like core commandments of the gospel - which I came to understand I wasn't really doing with a desire to be "anxiously engaged" in said commandment. It's quite a lot to chew on mentally to consider that doing those essential things for the wrong reasons is, as Moroni seems to have said, "evil before God." Wow. Even writing that hurts a little bit. When we repetitively do good or essential things, - or anything even kind of good for that matter - without any righteous enthusiasm or with impure and unholy motives, we are no longer engaged in righteous tradition, but mindless addiction.

It all boils down to what the habit is turning or not turning us into. Life is like constantly going up a down escalator. If there's anything in our lives that is not enabling us to run faster upward (toward being Christlike) than the escalator is going downward (toward infectiously corrosive standards of the world), they need to be replaced with something better OR, if they are the essential things, done with the correct motivation and attitude.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

What Does Being Pro-Choice Really Mean?

I've been thinking a lot about choices, overcoming habits, accountability and responsibility recently. A really good friend of mine also recommended a talk by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the 70 that he gave at a BYU devotional last year titled Be 100 Percent Responsible. With all of that in my head, I feel a need to explain some of my thoughts on the subject, relating to - yes - abortion, but also other issues where people seek to avoid natural consequences.

For the most part, labeling people is dumb unless the label reflects our only constant, eternal and truthful identity as children of God. However, for the sake of properly portraying my perspective on this matter, I will at least go as far as to say that my views are, in the scriptural sense of the terms, both pro-choice and pro-life in the matter of abortion.  The reason for the pro-choice part is because I believe that main-stream media's use of the term "pro-choice" is a misnomer of gargantuan proportions.

God Himself sent us a Savior to atone for our sins knowing that many of His children would use the very agency He gave them to reject His gift of change, repentance and peace. He put forth this plan anyways because even though He knew many would choose to turn their backs on Him, He understood how precious the gift of agency/free will is. He knew that the eternal rewards He has in store for us are only justified if our receiving them is the consequence of our choices. The irony about such a gift is that, as the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet says, "While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences."

In a previous entry, I mentioned that there is a higher principle than truth. It is to edify (D&C 50:23). If the truth does not edify all parties involved then it needs to be either withheld or applied a different way. In the case of abortion, each of those babies is a child of God and each of those mothers is a child of God. Whatever choice a mother makes regarding the life of her baby, whether it was an intentional pregnancy or not (no matter what the cause), she needs to be sure that that choice will edify all parties involved, including her life, the lives of her family and friends and the life of the baby. Except for the extremely rare exception where a spirit son or daughter of God was so righteous in the pre-mortal life that all they needed to do was to have their spirit enter their body without actually living outside of their mother's womb, the only situation that might (a big "might"), just maybe justify - not excuse, but justify - an abortion is if the neither the mother or the baby will survive the birth and one must give it's life for the other to live and even then, it must be done in a way that is most edifying to all parties involved. That way, absolutely no one's agency is violated and the eternal laws of justice and mercy remained balanced.

Another angle to look at choice and responsibility is the way Elder Lynn G. Robbins discussed. He made a list of nineteen items on an "anti-responsibility" list. This list as follows:

1. Blaming others (1 Samuel 15:21)
2. Rationalizing or justifying: (1 Samuel 15:21; see also verse 22).
3. Making excuses: (1 Nephi 3:31).
4. Minimalizing or trivializing sin: (see Alma 1:3–4).
5. Hiding: (see Moses 4:14).
6. Covering up: (see 2 Samuel 12:9, 12).
7. Fleeing from responsibility: (see Jonah 1:3).
8. Abandoning responsibility: (see Alma 39:3).
9. Denying or lying: (1 Samuel 15:13–14).
10. Rebelling: (1 Samuel 15:23).
11. Complaining and murmuring: (Numbers 14:2).
12. Finding fault and getting angry: (1 Nephi 3:28).
13. Making demands and entitlements: (1 Nephi 18:10–11).
14. Doubting, losing hope, giving up, and quitting: (1 Nephi 17:17–18).
15. Indulging in self-pity and a victim ­mentality: (1 Nephi 17:21).
16. Being indecisive or being in a spiritual ­stupor: The irony with indecision is that if you don’t make a decision in time, time will make a decision for you.
17. Procrastinating: (Helaman 13:38).
18. Allowing fear to rule: (Matthew 25:25–26).
19. Enabling: (1 Samuel 2:29; see also verses 22–36).

One of the most important points of his address, I believe, was where he said that "going to the anti-responsibility list is counterproductive, even if you are right." (emphasis added)

In each of those cases on the list, even if you speak the truth, even if something isn't your fault or if unfavorable circumstances feel more forced upon you than as the consequence of your own actions, the Christ-like response is to take responsibility by...

1. Responding to circumstances out of our control with patience and, of our own accord, proactively seeking His guidance to change them.
2. Accepting the full and unfiltered consequences of trials we bring upon ourselves with meekness, humility, courage and yes, even gratitude.
3. Refusing to dwell on who is at fault for a sin or mistake, allowing God to execute mercy and justice as He sees fit and, instead, seeking to help rebuild or heal whatever or whoever was negatively affected by another's action.

Boy do I wish I was better at all of those things. The reason I bring that whole thing from his talk into this is because it re-emphasizes the fact that being pro-choice means, by default, that we accept the consequences of our actions and even the actions of others. Acceptance does not necessarily mean condoning or continuously allowing the harmful actions of others without proactively seeking the edification of all parties involved. It simply means we do not become bitter about it. Taking the life of an unborn child for the sake of emotional duress, convenience, financial instability, mental illness or any other number of problems caused by another person is actually very anti-choice because it is anti-consequence. It is irresponsible because it is an attempt make a choice but avoid the inescapable second part of the package deal, the consequence. In reality the pro-choice route means either confronting parenthood with faith and humility by using proper means to find help raising the child or finding someone else who can do so to take in the child.

Whether someone decides to perform or get an abortion or not, whether they face the negative consequences of such an action now or later, the eternal laws of justice and mercy will eventually catch up with them. As Mordo says in Dr. Strange, "the bill always comes due."

This also applies to retaliating or responding aggressively and tactlessly towards people who commit violence, oppress religious freedom, use religion to oppress others, deliberately slander, lie, abuse others, or otherwise injure and degrade us or those we love. Even when we have done nothing to justify mistreatment or injury, being pro-choice always means being pro-consequence.

-Remove yourself from that toxic relationship or seek to repair it, but don't blame others or victimize yourself.
-Be patient with weaknesses of others that hurt you, considering the difficulty they themselves may be facing and proactively make choices to alleviate their burden so the burden they have caused you can, therefore, be lifted.
-Refuse to wait for others to reach out and help you overcome a bad habit by making whatever sacrifice is necessary to break that bad habit that is dragging you and others around you down.
-Instead of blaming, make whatever preventative actions you must to prevent undesirable consequences of others actions on you.

Please don't misunderstand me here. Obviously women, especially women who are doing things right and not attracting pigs, are absolutely not responsible for the choices of the one who decides to abuse them. However, they are responsible for how they respond to that choice and the response that robs a child of his/her life is, probably 99.99999999% of the time, irresponsible.

If we don't like the consequences we face, we must change our choices. It's as simple as that.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

To Conform or Not to Conform

Anyone paying even a little attention to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it's members and it's leadership has likely seen the varied reactions to the many changes made to certain church policies, standards and practices. From the lowering of the age of missionaries when they are called, discarding the term "Mormon" to describe the church and it's members and the Ministering initiative to policies surrounding same-gender unions and Boy Scouts of America, most people are either all-in with every change, totally against it or just ignore it completely. And I get it. It takes a lot of faith to abandon old traditions, especially the ones we hold on to for decades.

But when it comes to following the prophet or the traditions of the world, I have always been one to be utterly nonconformist when it comes to what the world thinks is popular or "cool" and I give every effort I possibly can to be an absolute conformist when it comes to counsel and changes made by God's prophets.

Being in the nonconformist minority in temporal matters can be lonely sometimes, but it always gives me more peace than the other way around. I remember a lady I met one day here in Hamilton a number of years ago with whom I talked about a belief in Jesus Christ and with derision she replied something like "You know, know one really believes in that stuff anymore." From other people on social media around the world, I have heard things like, "that world is changing and if you don't change with it, you'll be left behind." Both of these arguments and all others like it are merely people who are afraid of believing in something bigger and more divine and holy than themselves because it means they have to swim against the current of popular opinion. Being a conformist can be a bad or a good thing depending the standard to which you conform.

I am reminded of a quote by Elder Neal A. Maxwell that he used to address the ever mocking and demeaning criticism of the humble followers of Christ by those who oppose holiness and godliness. He said, "The laughter of the world is merely loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself."

For this reason among many others, I choose to conform to the revelations, counsel and encouragement (see what I did there?) of God's prophets. Part of the reason I love that quote from Elder Maxwell is because I know, first hand, what it's like to be wrapped up in sinful habits and addiction that the world celebrates or at least speaks of with an attitude of "live and let live." I know very well how lonely or depressing it feels to be around people who love and care about you and still feel lonely because of the kind of person you have become in your dark habits. It's horrific and leaves you feeling empty, numb, worthless, weak and fake and no amount of kindness will bring you out of it unless you change your behavior and become a better person yourself, which is where the power of Jesus Christ comes into play because of His atoning sacrifice. The laughter of the world really is loneliness pathetically trying to reassure itself.

Refusing to conform to the worlds standards and, instead, rigidly conforming to God's prophets is always the best road to take. I was so excited (and still am) about the Ministering initiative and its purpose to simply love people enough to serve each other out of desire instead of obligation. I have been looking for every opportunity possible to be a light in others lives since that time, whether they are on some kind of list or not. I always loved getting to know new people anyways. I also absolutely loved President Nelson's talk "Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives" where he said, "There is no amorphous entity called “the Atonement” upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice—the central act of all human history—is best understood and appreciated when we expressly and clearly connect it to Him."

Ever since then I try as tactfully and kindly as possible suggest that people replace phrases like "I know the power of atonement is real" and "I found healing from my heartache through the atonement" to "I know that Jesus' power to heal us because of His atoning sacrifice is real" and "I found healing through my Savior."

I have to be honest. I have been really confused as I have observed people who have blatantly ignored or out-rightly refused to follow President Nelson's counsel to refer to ourselves as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instead of "Mormons" simply because of the tradition. I absolutely could not care less how long a tradition was practiced or how much good it did. If the Lord sees fit to elevate our thinking to an even higher plane or correct some thing that may have been good for a time but is stopping us from becoming even better, than we need to, without question, be totally on board with that. Any opportunity to smash through the barriers of our comfort zone and exponentially elevate our habits, thoughts, motives and feelings to a higher plane should be welcomed, embraced, even clung to for dear life (temporally and spiritually). I will absolutely conform to any change God reveals through His prophets, whether it's in the form a policy change, a new revelation or a call to abandon or adopt new habits and reasons for doing things.

I'm not actually even where I want to be in this regard, but I am working as hard as I possibly can to live far, far more than just worthy of a temple recommend, but worthy for Zion and Celestial Glory, which standard of worthiness is going to unfathomably higher than things are right now.

The world is changing and we need to be conforming, but not to the world. Any conforming we do should be to Jesus Christ and the counsel He gives us through His prophets; unapologetically, enthusiastically, unhesitatingly, joyfully, exactly, constantly, humbly and lovingly.