Sunday, November 7, 2010

When the Manna Gets Old

The Israelites in the Book of Exodus were fed miraculously with bread of heaven as they wandered in the wilderness. The bread, manna, fell from heaven each morning and provided all they needed for that day. In the evening, they enjoyed meat from quail provided to their camp. After a while though, they got bored and they wanted something different. They missed what they had left behind.

From Numbers 11:
5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:

6 But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna before our eyes.

This is a well-known scene from the Old Testament and it becomes in our modern times an example of not being happy with what you have, seeking luxury, being ungrateful, greedy and selfish.

Another pretty obvious parallel is the bread of heaven as a symbol for the bread of life. In the modern LDS church, I can see this case being made: Heavenly Father has revealed a certain amount of doctrine and gospel light to the people of the world and they have an obligation to daily partake of it and live according to its principles. These doctrines are made available through the scriptures and teachings of the prophets (i.e. the bread of life). If members of the church become bored with or tired of these teachings then they are obviously in the same error as the ancient Israelites. These Church members are unable to be happy with what they have, but vainly seek for more. Their selfishness is deplorable and in extension, they can be used as an example of sinful behavior. This can be used to denounce the people who enjoy speculation or scholarship or those who mention a desire for revelation on certain topics or those who seek to understand "the mysteries" mentioned throughout the scriptures.

And to those who make that case, I will say that their meaning sounds an awful lot like the people denounced in The Book of Mormon for saying, "A bible, a bible, we have got a bible. We have not need for any more bible."

Member of the church would be familiar with the foundation principles of the gospel being the core focus of correlation. I learned from Daymon Smith's Mormon Stories Podcast that correlation consists of 72 gospel principles and core doctrines that are intended to be solely concentrated on throughout the church and throughout the world.

In response to that presentation, I commented:
I’m coming to this discussion late, but after just listening to Part 2, have to comment that the discussion on correlation is informing and validating some of my frustrations with the 72 ideas of the gospel. I’m feel pretty solid on those, to be honest. I got it down. I’m bored with the general instruction of correlation and like Andrew referred to I’m itching to move on to the “mysteries.” How I wish there was a post-correlation track for those who are ready to move beyond the basics and seek the “further light and knowledge” that is in the realm of pure speculation now? Sunstone is great for that, of course, but hardly mainstream in the church.
I can't believe that Heavenly Father wants us to stop in our progression and refrain from seeking greater light and intelligence in this life, yet I see this being taught in his church. It saddens me. I find myself in a situation where I have to hide my thoughts and feelings in fear of the judgement and persecution of others.

I know that one of the arguments supporting the idea that those who aren't content with revealed gospel knowledge are ungrateful and selfish also claim that members of the church have the obligation to become perfect in the principles of the gospel that we do have knowledge of. In extension, it is because we are not perfect in these things that we have been deemed unworthy by God to receive any further information. Its as if we are in a period of being damned and halted in our progression because we aren't good enough at what we've got.

That may be true. Yet can such a sweeping generalization be true of everyone? Is this a judgement that we are experiencing because, like many other situations in life, the many are ruining it for the few or, like in other situations, the few are ruining it for the many?

If that is the case, then it might be accurate to say that some members of the church truly are ready to progress beyond correlated principles and to learn through revelation some of the less important doctrine that help us make sense of everything that is and all that will be revealed. If the glory of God is intelligence, why are damned if we seek it?

Those who defend the correlated view say that it is important to have a strong foundation and to not stray from it. That what is taught by the church is the foundation and most important information of the gospel and all we need to know to get back to our heavenly parents. While that is true, and it is important for each member of the church to be firmly established in gospel sod, you can't live in a house that is just a foundation.

Having heard the same lessons repeated with little variance over the last few years has left me weary and yearning for more. And if I run the risk of sounding like an Israelite complaining about manna, I think I'll take it considering my intention is "to hunger and thirst after righteousness."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reflections on Marriage : A History

I just finished reading Marriage A History by Stephanie Coontz which has been talked about recently on the Exponent blog. Through out my reading, I saw how one of the most profound changes to marriage was (and I don't know if it was because of or is just a side-effect) women becoming recognized as people and not property. There is still much to do on that and our culture is still very much imbued with the past where women didn't matter. I realize that the freedoms we enjoy now are tenuous at best. We can count ourselves as lucky but we're conditioned to be afraid of pushing for more.

I really think that this translates into the church. You can't take the cultural and historical context of our society/country/cultural world out of the administration of the church. From reading Marriage a History, I'm not so confident in the concept of traditional marriage that is being upheld by the church. If traditional marriage was only a short-lived phenomenon which only came about as a natural progression of people trying to figure out what was right, fair and good for them while at the same having subtle but very negative effects on women especially, how is that the will of God? And if the church is wrong on the ideal structure to marriage and women's and men's responsibilities to their families, then perhaps the extension of the priesthood is a continuation of the progress that we as people need to continue making so women can finally after so many centuries be treated equally.

It seems to me that the leaders need to be convinced of this but they are so busy only seeing it from their perspective and believing that they have the clarity of vision to know how women feel in relation to it that there's not a whole lot of hope to see things change. But perhaps there is hope, 50 years ago things were really sucking for women and I have to say that I prefer the role strain and frustration of being a woman now to envisioning living in that world then. 50 years from now could be better than what we have now, right?

There's some positive things taking place. Equality in parenting and employment is becoming more of a reality (reading War on Moms now). WAVE exists. I do believe that women's opportunities will expand in the next 50 years to where women will not be penalized to the extent that they are now for being mothers and caring for their children. It may take a great deal of time and patience for the leaders of the church to embrace the new order of men and women working part-time and caring for children part time relying little on childcare and having respected careers while being able to afford living comfortably. It sounds so utopian but I think that it could happen in the next 50 years in the United States. That's already the reality in Holland. It makes me want to move to Holland. I've been threatening becoming an ex-pat for so long that I wonder if someday we'll actually do it.

If the leaders of the church saw that reality, it makes me think that women's involvement in the church would change too because they'd finally be willing to seriously consider the thoughts and feelings of the sisters.

I originally wrote these thoughts with the ideas of from this post floating in my head where the writer is decidedly pessimistic in hopes of these things happening within the church. Where do you stand?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Going to Meet Mother

The following is an obvious allegory of faith in God and confidence in life after death in addition to the metaphor of a baby's introduction to life and its mother's arm. Yet, to me, it strikes a different chord. That of my desire to connect with my Heavenly Mother.

Spirit Twins

Imagine this scene if you will.

Two babies are in utero confined to the wall of their mother’s womb, and they are having a conversation. For the sake of clarity we’ll call these twins Ego and Spirit.

Spirit says to Ego, “I know you are going to find this difficult to accept, but I truly believe there is life after birth.”

Ego responds, “Don’t be ridiculous. Look around you. This is all there is. Why must you always be thinking about something beyond this reality? Accept your lot in life. Make yourself comfortable and forget about all this life-after-birth nonsense.”

Spirit quiets down for a while, but her inner voice won’t allow her to remain silent any longer. “Ego, now don’t get mad, but I have something else to say. I also believe that there is a Mother.”

“A Mother!” Ego guffaws. “How can you be so absurd? You’ve never seen a Mother. Why can’t you accept that this is all there is? The idea of a Mother is crazy. You are here alone with me. This is your reality. Now grab hold of that cord. Go into your corner and stop being so silly. Trust me, there is no Mother.”

Spirit reluctantly stops her conversation with Ego, but her restlessness soon gets the better of her. “Ego,” she implores, “please listen without rejecting
my idea. Somehow I think that those constant pressures we both feel, those movements that make us so uncomfortable at times, that continual repositioning and all of that closing in that seems to be taking place as we keep growing, is getting us ready for a place of glowing light, and we will experience it very soon.”

“Now I know you are absolutely insane,” replies Ego. “All you’ve ever known is darkness. You’ve never seen the light. How can you even contemplate such an idea? Those movements and pressures you feel are your reality. You are a distinct separate being. This is your journey and you’re on your own. Darkness and pressures and a closed-in feeling are what life is all about. You’ll have to fight it as long as you live. Now grab your cord and please stay still.

Spirit relaxes for a while, but finally she can contain herself no longer. “Ego, I have only one more thing to say, and then I’ll never bother you again.”

“Go ahead,” Ego responds impatiently.

“I believe all of these pressures and all of this discomfort is not only going to bring us to a new celestial light, but when we experience it, we are going to meet Mother face-to-face and know an ecstasy that is beyond anything we have ever experienced up until now.”

“You really are crazy, Spirit. Now I’m truly convinced of it.”

-by Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, theologian and writer. This text was included by Dr. Wayne Dyer in his book “Your Sacred Self”

As much as I look forward to being reunited with my deceased loved ones, and to meet my ancestors whom I never met, I have a greater desire to feel the comforting arms of my Father's hug. However, I feel a great deal of closeness to my Father in Heaven because I know him as well as I do. My conversations with God are open, consistent and at times constant and the communications in response so familiar that its merely curiosity that leads me to want to see God. On the other hand, I do not have the familiarity with my Mother in Heaven and so it is to meet her, and to understand her nature that propels me forward.

Up until recently, my desire to know Heavenly Mother was an intellectual pursuit but as I have studied what is known and not known about her and consequently encountered the barriers to knowing her, it has become a more emotional, primal need. Perhaps it was the impassioned poetry of Carol Lynn Pearson's "Mother Wove the Morning" and other emotional treatises on the necessity of divine womanhood to the people of the earth. It is true that my emotional response is being stirred up by the emotions of others, and yet, even independently, how long would I stay reserved and patient given the frustration of seeking and not being able to find?

Can this allegory provide a hopeful thought that can help us look forward to the time in faith, confidence and cheerfulness when we will meet Mother face-to-face? Or does that hope also lend to the frustration of being kept from her?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Human initiative in seeking revelation

I came across this quote today:

"LDS philosopher David Paulsen argues that, while God directs the ongoing restoration, He expects “concurrent human initiative— not only in seeking and receiving direct revelation from God, but also in seeking, recognizing, and appropriating ‘truths’ from others, wherever found.”

Its from an article from Dialogue about C.S. Lewis as a source for gospel truth for Latter-day Saints. In the church, I don't think many argue that he's not a good place to learn good Christian values and a positive example of Christianity. The author draws the parallel between C.S. Lewis's openness to embrace and accept truth wherever it could be found to the teachings of LDS prophets who make the same claim. Yet this quote from David Paulsen takes it to a place that perhaps many Mormons would be uncomfortable.

Most Mormons would agree that in order to receive revelations for one's self, one must take the initiative to seek it. If one takes "no thought save it were to ask (D&C 9:7), they are not very likely to receive the answer. One must diligently, prayerfully over time seek and come line upon line and precept upon precept to the answer that is to be revealed.

And yet, I have seen how some Mormons do not apply this same standard to revelations given directly to the church. I have heard a number times in different ways the thought expressed "If it was Heavenly Father's will, he would reveal it to his leaders and since that's not the way the church is run, then its obviously not His will." Its like these members of the church hold the church leaders to a different standard where they do not have the responsibility or need to take the initiative to receive the will of God for the church. In this line of reasoning, they simply wait for God to speak and tell them what we need to know.

I personally do not, and in all honesty, cannot believe that this is how revelation works in the church. I also do not believe that the leaders of the church have the time or energy to ask of the Lord on every question of doctrinal worth. At the same time, I don't understand the process by which leaders determine which issues are important to seek revelation regarding. Is it something that could be accomplished through a vote?

If we were to view LDS church leaders as representatives between us and God. is it like contacting your legislator and expressing your wishes for what it is you'd like to see accomplished or revealed? Does it then require a critical mass of constituents to effectively communicate what knowledge is being sought by the electorate?

Let's take for instance, the desire for many members of the church to receive church-wide revelation on the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. Would the leaders and, by extension, we be more likely to receive it if a great many members of the church petitioned the leaders to ask on our behalf to know more regarding the nature of a Divine Mother?

There is a pattern of this set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants where many revelations were received because a member of the church asked Joseph regarding a certain topic and as a blessing to the individual and to us generations later, we have the revelation recorded for our benefit and use. The most famous example, perhaps, is the origin of the Word of Wisdom where Emma Smith asked her husband regarding the appropriateness of men chewing tobacco and leaving their spittle to leak through the floorboards to the room below. One of my favorite anecdotes actually comes from David Whitmer who teased Emma about wanting men's filthy habits to cease but may be unwilling to give up the ladie's habits of drinking coffee and tea. Then the revelation addressed and restricted all three.

In the early church, it only took one member of the church. Now, in the modern church, how many members would it take? A couple of hundred? A couple of thousand?

And what would that effort to coordinate look like?