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Trust, God, and following the Prophets

From time to time there arise some issue or another where some people dislike or disapprove of something said by someone in Church leadership. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is, who said it, or what side they are arguing, the arguments tend to be the same:

– Bringing out scripture and/or previous statements
– Declaring the other side as apostate/not Christlike/tares
– Bringing out personal (or worse, someone else’s) anecdotes
– Declaring the other side is “trusting in man, not God”
– Declaring your “personal revelation” concerning the matter
– Being incredulous at what the other side “really means”
– Scoffing at how anyone could believe such a thing in the first place

platitudeThere are many, many variations, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. They get very tiring, very quickly, but are easy enough to throw out when you don’t have the time, energy, or desire to have an actual discussion about something. It’s much like the use of platitudes; you use them and show how wise you are, dismissing or affirming something with just a few words.

Now I have to seriously caveat this. I am not saying that a couple of the above items should never be done, just that they should not be used as arguments. For example, sharing scriptures, personal revelation or anecdotes that have helped form what you believe can be done, just not in the manner of “this is why you’re wrong”.

The best any of us can do is “this is why I believe what I believe”. This can be used to help convince someone to think about something differently, to reexamine or adjust what they believe, but ultimately what we believe is only as strong as the foundation we build it on. The only absolutely sure foundation is God. Anything else, anyone else you build upon has the potential to fail, even people, scriptures, or prophets. But what sort of building can you have if you wait to use only perfect materials? This is where trust comes in.

In Primary (the Church instruction for children under 12), we sing a Folk song from the South-Eastern US that gives a simplistic understanding of this (skipping repeated lines):

The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood still.

The foolish man built his house upon the sand,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the sand washed away.

The “rock”, put simply, is God, our only sure foundation. Anything else is “sand” that will wash away when disaster comes. This beautiful, simplistic teaching can prompt us to deeper examination. While the wise man survived the floods with his house still solidly on the rock, no mention is made of the condition of the house. We’d hope that the house, with all the materials that were put into it, emerged completely unscathed, but it is very plausible that there is at least some damage. Some part of the house failed. Will it be replaced with something similar? Will it be remade into something completely different? What if that fails too? What if something bigger, that effects larger portions of the building, fails?

This is where we can have trust. This is where we have faith, knowing that our Rock, God, will not fail, even if every other part of our building falls. From here, we decide what we can build with, where we will place our trust. This is why Christ is also called the “Chief Cornerstone”. He is the first, most important, most solid stone which is firmly upon the foundation of God. We may choose other cornerstones, scriptures, prophets, our own revelations, the words of others, in building. None of these things are perfect, any more than every brick in a wall is perfect. Some flaws may be unseen. Some flaws will make no difference to your use of them. Will those flaws come to cause the whole building to collapse? Though not impossible, it may be very improbable. That determination is yours to make. God will help you find and use what materials you need.

For others you may recommend or warn in their building, but you cannot assume, get angry, or gloat if you are not heeded. You are not the architect and may have little idea what successes or failures they have had in the past. The best option is to show how you have developed your own structure, how you have repaired damage, how you have demolished some parts and replaced them with others. Help others recover when the rains and floods have caused more damage to them than to you. Encourage their honest efforts.

For me, I know where I have placed my trust. I have faith in the Scriptures and in Prophets, fully knowing that they are flawed and can be used in damaging ways. Ultimately, I am firmly anchored to the Rock. I know Jesus is a solid corner stone I can build on. I believe the Church is true. I know it has the Authority given from God. It has been a dependable material for me in the past (even when I have neglected using it), through many storms that continue to shape, mold, and grow it toward whatever end God has for it. I have faith in it being an imperfect but solid and dependable material for me to work with. I have had many of my own experiences and personal revelations that I use to continue building, as well as supports and materials given by others. Could it all be washed away with the next storm? Possible, but not likely. Even if it does, I know I can stay anchored to the Rock and build again.

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To mourn with those who mourn

I’ve had a few experiences with people mourning lately, as well as a discussion on how someone believes that part of mourning is coming to agree with their views. This can be a very delicate topic, as mourning involves already being in some sort of inner pain. This is not anything about how to mourn or how to come out of mourning. This is also not for those who are in deep depression, who may need professional help to come back out into the world they inhabited before. This is about the scriptural instruction to “mourn with those that mourn” (Mosiah 18:9)

You see, we seem to have some odd ideas as to what it means to mourn with someone. Some try platitudes. A platitude is anything that is given as a truism designed to “make it all better”, putting forth very little effort in hopes that the person will just stop mourning.

“It wasn’t meant to be.”
“They’re in a better place now”
“At least it was quick”
“It’ll be over soon”
“At least you won’t have to deal with any more (or in the foreseeable future)”

With the LDS view of the afterlife (having families be together forever and marriage eternal), we’ve added our own uniquely painful and ineffective versions to the list.

“You’ll have a chance in the next life”
“They’ve just gone ahead to prepare for you”
“Now they can run and play”
“You’ll get them back in the next life”
“Just keep praying”

Do NOT, under any circumstances, no matter how well intentioned, let these phrases or anything like unto it pass your lips to someone who is mourning. Work to have these never even come to mind. They are not helpful to someone who is mourning and can even make it deeper, driving them away from you instead of drawing you closer together.

It makes no difference on your believing it is true or if they believe it is true, these are still just empty platitudes. A father who has lost his child may know of a surety that his child is whole and alive with God, but that does not negate his need for mourning. A woman may feel she is passed the age where she would have a chance to have a husband and children, know that the Plan of God includes her marrying and having children, but still mourn for her loss. A person who has been living with sin can know the love and forgiveness of Christ and still mourn what they had lost from that sin. A platitude may help you feel better around someone else’s mourning, but they are empty, stinging words to that person’s soul.

Actions to try and bring someone out of their mourning can be just as problematic, but in a different way. (I’ll note again that deep depression should be handled professionally). While those who “mourn . . . shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), this does not mean that you need to “just cheer them up” or “get them out” or “put a smile on their face”. While these may help once mourning is abated for a time, no scripture says “cheer up those who mourn”.

We mourn not when we’re in a brief down or when we’re feeling just a bit low; we mourn when we are feeling pain deep down to our souls. These are deep wounds, the kind that if they were physical would be cuts through and into the bone. These kind of wounds do not need little bandages or mild pain killers, but need stitching or holding together until time can make it closer to whole. There is no “just walk it off” for mourning, no “it’s not that bad” for wounds so deep, no “just look up” for damage so deep. There will be scars, pain, and no immediate fix.

Mourning takes time to heal, and will never heal completely. The best, The Best help to someone who is mourning is to mourn with them. Simply be with them. Be there when they reach out to you, but more importantly be there before they feel they need to. Quiet which may or may not be broken by expressions of that pain are not the enemy; they are part of the healing process. Let yourself feel some of the pain they are feeling, even if it triggers your own mourning. Let them take comfort in your presence. Nothing more is needed. You may get something out of the experience, like appreciation for a pain you may never have experienced, but you may get nothing at all. You are not there to “fix” or to “cheer”. You are there to mourn with those who mourn.

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Allowing people to govern themselves

One of the discussions that occasionally comes up on various Mormon blogs is the issue of how to react and/or teach about inappropriate behavior and dress.  The youth, particularly the young women, tend to be most often the subject for this, as the standards given by the Church are more specific than elsewhere, but the problem, for me, is more in how to react to these issues, rather than the standards themselves.  Standards and laws are much the same.  You can simply follow them the best you are able, or decide not to and understand that there are consequences involved.  A person driving over the speed limit may be subjected to a fine.  A girl in a bikini at a Church function may be asked to cover herself with more appropriate clothing.  I’m not going to argue the merits or effects of those standards and laws.  I want to address the ways to enforce said standards and laws.

In all of the dealings of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the example has been set – praise in public, reprove in private.  This is very important in dealing with anyone, no matter what the issue.  Another thing to remember when reproving, or even just advising, someone is your relationship with them.  Some theoretical examples:

  • Once I saw that a young woman had managed to get a sticker attached to the backside of her dress without her knowledge.  Rather than tell the girl myself (which would be embarrassing to her), I passed it along to an older woman to take care of it discreetly.
  • At another time, a young woman in the class I was teaching was absent-mindedly leaning back in her chair, not making the connection that she was wearing a short skirt.  Even though I was her teacher, I felt it was more appropriate for me to mention it to her mother, rather than going to the girl herself.
  • At a church youth dance, I notice that the skirt of a young woman seems a little too short.  Not being a leader, teacher, advisor, or of any relation to this young woman, I have no recourse.  It is not my job to police or even advise on dress standards.  It doesn’t even need to be kept as something to “deal with” later, or remember as more proof of “kids these days”.  (What am I doing checking out young women’s legs, anyway?  Creepo.)
  • I am an advisor to the Deacons Quorum.  I notice that some of the young men are starting to get a little sloppy in their dress for passing the Sacrament.  In a private setting (not in front of the whole group), I make mention of this to the Deacons Quorum President, who can choose how to manage it himself.  I can advise if asked, but it is not my responsibility to fix.  If one of the deacons is my son, however, I get the responsibility to teach my son how to dress better.
  • I notice someone has been coming to Sacrament Meeting dress in t-shirt and jeans or other inappropriate clothing.  I make no mention of it at all, not even a disapproving glance, as it is absolutely not my purview and I have no idea as to the circumstances of that person.  The only thing I should be doing in this situation is welcoming and fellowshipping the person, as it is the person, not the clothes, that have come to worship.

Open criticism is akin to gossip.  You are telling the perceived faults of another to people who have no concern in it (especially bad when you, yourself have no concern in it).  For most of the people in your ward you are not their keeper or minder.  Seek out the virtues of each person, get to know them as people, and let those who are placed to advise to their own work.  Vigilant criticism, especially before others, is hurtful and damaging, most especially to you.

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Welcoming the dissenting voice

In my wanderings around various blogs, it has struck me how varied people can be in welcoming, defending, and rejecting comments from people who hold different views on the subjects being posted. Me, I tend to hang about LDS blogs, more specifically feminist or womens issues blogs. The alternatives in LDS blogs tend to be those that spend a lot of time doing deep analysis; where points are made with many obscure book references and arguments that are themselves philosophy student dissertations. I can (and occasionally do) read those kinds of blogs, but dont feel confident enough in my own abilities to articulate my point of view to participate in the discussions. That’s probably why I have this blog, even if it is rarely read.

In any case, back to the subject.

A blog, like a congregation, a town, or any other grouping of people, is filled with people of vast differences in knowledge and opinions. As such, you can get quite a range of comments for and against any part of your posting, especially as the subject you’ve written becomes more controversial. Some lay in wait to demean and debunk any opinion supportive of the LDS Church, some look for points to affirm or deny on their own merit, some read to try and learn more about a subject, and some are on the defensive for anything that might be construed as attacking their choices or beliefs. For moderators, it can be difficult to define a line of what is acceptable and what is not.

My personal preference for comments are those that speak of a persons own experience and opinions, without disparaging or demeaning the experiences and opinions of others. This does not mean that opinions or doctrines cannot be defended, but that it should be done in simplicity, stating belief and leaving it at that. Spending time going back and forth with someone who will not listen is useless. Using insults (no matter how thinly veiled or claiming to only be insulting the rationale of a subject) promotes less dialogue, not more. You’re welcome to take umberage at what is said, but to demean and demand that the person no longer comment is counterproductive. As you restrict the opinions and knowledge of others around you, your own opportunites to learn diminish.

So share, please. For or against, part or all, it matters not. The idea is to learn and grow together, no matter what we bring, no matter what we know.

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