On Exaltation, Unity, and Heavenly Mother

I recently read this excellent article, which defends the idea that female identity is essential to God’s plan of happiness.  One line in particular struck me as especially relevant for a train of thought that dominates some online discussions: an obsession with parsing speculations about Heavenly Mother.

[T]o assume that absence of mention is the same as absence is a logical fallacy…. it is possible to assert that whenever Elohim is mentioned, as it is in the creation story of Genesis (and by extension, the Pearl of Great Price), we are speaking of God, and “God” means an exalted woman and an exalted man married in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 132…).  

Quite right.  Those who demand more insight into and some kind of interaction with Heavenly Mother have completely misunderstood the nature of God.  We can already know everything there is to know about her.

We know that exaltation requires a sealed marriage, and we also know that exaltation requires the kind of perfect unity enjoyed by Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.   Continue reading

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Everyone knows I love The Simpsons.  Usually, when talking about it, I tend to focus on the quality of its satiric social commentary.  However, there’s another area where it excels which draws me in, too.

The Simpsons invented and perfected the art of both subverting sitcom conventions while generally operating within and even celebrating those conventions.  It’s a genius balancing act of ironic innovation and standard storytelling, and they were the best.

Until now.  Certainly the reigning champ of satire for at least a decade has been South Park, and now the geek contingent has a new paragon of worshipful TV meta-analysis.  It’s Community.

I’ve watched on and off for all three seasons, but it was only in the second half of this last season that I started watching faithfully.

If you haven’t seen the two paintball-themed, spaghetti Western parody episodes that closed season two (“A Fistful of Paintballs,” “For a Few Paintballs More”), you’re missing some of the funniest TV ever made.

But they just got snubbed in the Emmy nominations for the third year in a row.

Here’s  a great bit from the credits of the second episode they aired.

Teaching Men To Fish

A little conversation with my fellow conservatives, here.  Readers on the political left are welcome to eavesdrop, but this idea is for those of us who like to talk more about limited government and personal responsibility.

When we say these things, we also really like to quote the saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.”  This is wise, and useful.  But only if we actually go out and teach men to fish.

Yes, I know, conservatives actually give more to charity than liberals do–maybe our friends on the left think that their social safety nets are effective and sufficient–but is this really enough for us?

If we believe that the best charity isn’t in the form of monetary handouts, but people in the trenches doing one-on-one training with those whose skills aren’t as secure as ours, doesn’t that obligate us to actually give time to our communities doing just that?  Not just a little time, either, but enough to make a real difference?

I’m not saying that we don’t do that at all now, but I am suggesting that maybe we should do more.  Imagine a concerted, volunteer, conservative community mentoring effort for the needy that was so effective, the most liberal observers would have to admit, “Wow, those Tea Party types are really on to something here–they surely do care about their communities, and they’re clearly doing good to a degree that our generations of public programs simply aren’t.”  I don’t care about “converting” those on the left, but wouldn’t it be nice to silence the media’s snide stereotyping of us as heartless misers, as well as reducing the social ills that plague our communities?  I’m sure we all care about at least one of those goals.

So what say you?  Who’s up for actually teaching men how to fish?

 

Terry Teachout On The Good Life

Terry Teachout is one of my favorite writers on the arts, but his recent visit to his home town seems to have made him even more eloquent than usual.  In this post, he shares that, while he left in the 70’s and has spent his adult life moving frequently and working in the spotlight, his brother stayed in their small home town, serving the community and raising a family. 

My brother and I, in short, have both led typical American lives. It is fully as American to stick close to home as it is to become a wanderer, but it’s the wanderers who get most of the press, perhaps because we’re the ones who write it–and I’m not so sure it should be that way. I left home to find myself, but my brother didn’t have to leave home because he knew who he was. I call my mother every night, but he sees her every day. I write books, but he has a grown daughter. I like to think that my work may ultimately prove to have some lasting value, but I’m sure that he’s done more to make the world a better place.

No One Can Establish Zion Alone

For me, the scariest verse in all of scripture has always been D&C 103:2: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there…”  It’s hard enough to be a shy introvert now without having to be surrounded by people throughout eternity, too!  But there’s an important lesson in that truth about the nature of real spirituality, and it’s one that I’ve long been trying to learn.

Other teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants affirm that being sealed in the temple is necessary to qualify for exaltation, the highest salvation with which anyone can be blessed.  For example, D&C 131:1-2 reads, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage],” and the very next section contains this even more explicit promise: “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant…they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things…” (D&C 132:19). 

The point is that nobody can be exalted alone.  This supreme gift can only be bestowed on those who have successfully grounded their lives in the service of others–a family.  (I hasten to add here that the Church has clearly taught that nobody will suffer any loss of blessings because of any opportunity that they just didn’t have here on Earth–see, for example, Dallin H. Oaks: “The Lord has promised that in the eternities no blessing will be denied his sons and daughters who keep the commandments, are true tho their covenants, and desire what is right.”)

Just as exaltation cannot be achieved by a lone individual, neither can Zion be established by such.  There is no such thing as a marriage of one; similarly, there is no such thing as a Zion of one.    Continue reading

What’s Missing In Our Charity

I’m in a position of leadership in a classroom and in a church.  In both of those areas, I get to know people pretty well, and I see how they interact as peers.  And I’ve been surprised to see the same basic human drama in each.  Whether it’s school or church, everybody is trying to find a little slice of joy while struggling with their trials in life, and keeping up a brave front for public show.  Truly, the same human drama exists in every community.

Those efforts at a brave front may have more to do with not wanting to derail the smooth machinery of the community’s activities by drawing undue attention than it does with embarrassment or pride, but it is sadly counterproductive in at least one way: our stoic repression of the heartaches we’re dealing with puts up a wall and stagnates our connection to others.  I’ve seen too much hurt and misunderstanding caused by it.

People try to go about their daily lives, doing their jobs and doing things with their friends, often very unaware of just what these friends are suffering through.  The hidden stress that we all keep inside often keeps us too focused on ourselves, unable to reach out to others, and constricted in our ability to express real charity. 

Not that I’m suggesting that we all have more weepy pity parties.  One Breakfast Club was enough, thank you. 

What we seem to need even more of between the people in our schools, our churches, and indeed in every community–our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods–is empathy.  Continue reading

Sympathy For The Home Teacher

Yesterday, on a local talk radio station, a host I admire posed this conundrum to the audience: a relative of his inactive wife had given his contact information to his neighborhood congregation of the LDS church and two men (their new home teachers) came over to talk to them, but they don’t want to be contacted by church members; how should he proceed?

He politely hastened to add that the pair of visitors who had most recently come to his door were perfectly polite (though, apparently, some had been not quite so courteous in the past, unfortunately); nonetheless, they prefer not to have church members come visit them in their home. I heard a couple of callers give some decent advice on the subject (I wish I’d had time to hear the whole conversation), but it’s really a no-brainer: you politely but firmly ask not to be contacted, then take up the issue with the well-meaning relative.

 

I want to address another angle to this situation. A lot of people out there have had experiences similar to that of our talk show host friend, but fewer have been on the other side of these encounters. I’ve been on both sides, and I want people to understand where we’re coming from.

 

First of all, I hope everybody considers just how hard it is to approach the home of someone you don’t know, someone who may very well be hostile to you, and try to talk about religion. It can be terrifying. It takes courage and can only be motivated by a genuine gratitude to God and concern for the welfare of others. Remembering that might make more of these encounters more hospitable. That’s why my wife and I don’t close the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses: we may not agree with their doctrine, but at least they’re putting themselves out there doing hard, thankless work, trying to make the world a better place. It deserves respect.

 

Most people don’t like to be bothered by strangers when they’re at home, but don’t forget that those guys from the nearby church knocking on your door have lives, too. They have families waiting for them, they have jobs they’re tired from working at all day, and they have plenty of other, more comfortable things that they could be doing. But they’re giving up that time and comfort and risking instigating the occasional confrontation because someone out there could need them.

Continue reading

A painter, two poets, a scholar, and an Apostle: on community

Quick, what’s the scariest verse in all of scripture?  You might imagine some intense description of damnation, or an especially demanding requirement of sacrifice.  For me, though, this is the one that always sends shivers down my spine: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there…” (D&C 130:2).  I’m sure this is primarily an affirmation of the eternal nature of the sealed family unit, but can it be read more broadly?  Can this verse be interpreted to imply that, even in the Celestial Kingdom, I’ll frequently be surrounded by weird people who want to talk my ear off?

I know, I shouldn’t be such a sourpuss, but that’s my natural inclination…so it’s just as well that we’re all here to overcome our lower natures and become more like God. 

Truth be told, I’m grateful for all the people I’ve encountered in the Church (and I’m grateful for the insights that help me to be grateful for it!).  People that my introverted inner critic would be inclined to ignore after the most perfunctory howdy-do have, as we’ve worked together over time, become honestly dear to me, adding to my stockpile of varied experiences, and helping me grow in directions that I never could if my worship were limited to some kind of isolated navel-gazing.

This important point is perhaps best put in Eugene England’s seminal essay “Why The Church Is As True As The Gospel” (http://www.zionsbest.com/gospel.html).  Consider this excerpt:

The Church is as true as-perhaps truer than-the gospel because it is where all can find fruitful opposition, where its revealed nature and inspired direction maintains an opposition between liberal and conservative values, between faith and doubt, secure authority and frightening freedom, individual integrity and public responsibility and thus where there will be misery as well as holiness, bad as well as good. And if we cannot stand the misery and the struggle, if we would prefer that the Church be smooth and perfect and unchallenging rather than as it is, full of nagging human diversity and constant insistence that we perform ordinances and obey instructions and take seriously teachings that embody logically irresolvable paradoxes, if we refuse to lose ourselves wholeheartedly in such a school, then we will never know the redeeming truth of the Church. It is precisely in the struggle to be obedient while maintaining integrity, to have faith while being true to reason and evidence, to serve and love in the face of imperfections and even offenses, that we can gain the humility we need to allow divine power to enter our lives in transforming ways. Perhaps the most amazing paradox about the Church is that it literally brings together the divine and the human through priesthood service, the ordinances, the gifts of the spirit-in concrete ways that no abstract systems of ideas ever could.

I highly recommend reading this short essay, by the way.  Though I have some quibbles about England’s vaguely unorthodox wording at times, his view of the Church makes a pleasant complement to Elder Bednar’s great experiences with less active members, as related in his October 2006 General Conference address, “And Nothing Shall Offend Them” (http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-646-32,00.html):

Our visits were quite straightforward. We expressed love and appreciation for the opportunity to be in their home. We affirmed that we were servants of the Lord on His errand to their home. We indicated that we missed and needed them—and that they needed the blessings of the restored gospel. And at some point early in our conversation I often would ask a question like this: “Will you please help us understand why you are not actively participating in the blessings and programs of the Church?”

I made hundreds and hundreds of such visits. Each individual, each family, each home, and each answer was different. Over the years, however, I detected a common theme in many of the answers to my questions. Frequently responses like these were given:

“Several years ago a man said something in Sunday School that offended me, and I have not been back since.”

“No one in this branch greeted or reached out to me. I felt like an outsider. I was hurt by the unfriendliness of this branch.”

“I did not agree with the counsel the bishop gave me. I will not step foot in that building again as long as he is serving in that position.”

Many other causes of offense were cited—from doctrinal differences among adults to taunting, teasing, and excluding by youth. But the recurring theme was: “I was offended by . . . ”

The bishop and I would listen intently and sincerely. One of us might next ask about their conversion to and testimony of the restored gospel. As we talked, eyes often were moist with tears as these good people recalled the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost and described their prior spiritual experiences. Most of the “less-active” people I have ever visited had a discernible and tender testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. However, they were not presently participating in Church activities and meetings.

And then I would say something like this. “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” Many times people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.”

The bishop and I would then extend an invitation: “Dear friend, we are here today to counsel you that the time to stop being offended is now. Not only do we need you, but you need the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Please come back—now.”

The point being made by England and Bednar–that we need the Church, for its divinely-designed ordinances that we get to intimately administer to each other, and for its gloriously vibrant spectrum of real human life–is why my favorite painting is Van Gogh’s “Cafe Terrace At Night.” 

 

 

The outside world, though not necessarily hostile, is darker and colder than the warm , glowing, amicable cafe into which all in the painting are drawn.  Not only drawn, but invited, as are all of the “human family of Adam” into the Church.  It’s reassuring that such a place exists. 

Truly, as poet John Donne wrote in “Meditation XVII,”

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

Or, as Auden put it in “September 1, 1939,”

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

So the next time you see me, go ahead and say hello.  I’ll embrace the holier nature we’re encouraged by the Lord’s Church to internalize, and smile as I ask how you’re doing.