Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dr. Pharisees or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Lack of Prescriptions.

"Well if they can [do that], then I should be able to drink coffee," said during a conversation I had about church members who do things contrary to counsel given by church leadership.
Religious Reason has made a series of posts that got me thinking about why the gospel is prescriptive in certain places and not others. I have also seen terrible attempts at explaining these "gaps" in the gospel. The problem lies somewhere between what is considered to be doctrine, policy, or culture. The Millennial Star blog shared a fantastic parable I suggest you read.
Now, about the Pharisees. The Bible Dictionary states:
In the New Testament, a religious group among the Jews whose name suggests being separate or apart. The Pharisees prided themselves on strictly observing the law of Moses and avoiding anything associated with the Gentiles...Their teachings reduced religion to the observance of rules and encouraged spiritual pride. They caused many Jewish people to doubt Christ and his gospel. The Lord denounced the Pharisees and their works in Matthew 23Mark 7:1–23; and Luke 11:37–44.

The Pharisees prided themselves on laying out exactly how to act in any given circumstance. If there was a question, there was a definitive answer. If you didn't abide by their laws properly, you could be stoned. In our day, there seems to be a thirst for someone, similar to the Pharisees, to tell them what to do in any given circumstance. "Do I tithe on my net, gross, or surplus income? Why exactly is coffee, tea, and alcohol bad? What about cooking with alcohol?" They feel like there should be more revelation given to the body of the church. They want someone else to make decisions for them. That sounds strikingly similar to the plan that the adversary had for us before he was cast out for rebellion.
Herein lies the beauty of the gospel. It does not care about those things. Anywhere the doctrine is unclear, or seemingly misinterpreted, it is up to us. How will we learn and grow or make decisions by ourselves if everything is so prescriptive? Each individual's situation is unique. They learn at different paces. Some may not have a problem with saying the occasional swear word. Others may choose to tithe on their net income or surplus for any one of a thousand reasons. Does this make them not observant of gospel laws? No. The lack of prescriptions allows each person to make their own life choices while still living the gospel.
There are relatively few commandments. There is a basic standard of worthiness to enter into the temple or take part in priesthood ordinances. However, the questions asked in a temple or baptism interview are yes/no questions. If you can, with a clear conscience, answer those questions, the rest doesn't matter. 
Always remember not to compare yourself to other people. If you look to others and say, "Well, that family watches R-rated films, and this family swears in their house..." you're going to be able to justify doing almost anything.
The key is to not push your own ideas on gospel living onto others. Worry about yourself, not your neighbor. Remember, It is, and always will be, between you and The Lord.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Unless you have been there, Shut up.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams. Many people, including co-workers and others, have reacted to the event calling it "an earthquake," "devastating," and "a great loss."

"The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic," is a quote often misattributed to Joseph Stalin. Regardless of the source, it illustrates what I see as flawed logic in our society. The earthquakes in Haiti, China, and Chile. The tsunami and subsequent reactor meltdown at Fukushima. The invasion of Crimea by Russia. The deaths of christian children in Iraq at the hands of ISIS. Those are "earthquakes," "devastating," and "great losses." The Williams family deserves peace, silence, and compassion. Not hate-filled rhetoric on social networks regarding the subject of suicide.

Which brings me to my topic. I have been hearing cruel words of judgement regarding those who take their own lives. I have seen everything from "coward" to "idiot" used, often together, to describe people who have been to the darkest place humanity knows. Are these words of compassion? I am appalled that even those who consider themselves christians have the gall to point a finger at someone who left this world in sadness and speak as if they know. If they knew, they would have more compassion than that. Dieter F Ucthdorf had this to say:

"I imagine that every person on earth has been affected in some way by the destructive spirit of contention, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps there are even times when we recognize this spirit in ourselves. When we feel hurt, angry, or envious, it is quite easy to judge other people, often assigning dark motives to their actions in order to justify our own feelings of resentment."

Yes, it is exceptionally easy to stand off in the distance a ways and hurl vitriol in the direction of those who we disagree with. It is easy to stand up on a wall and judge others for the things we don't like. But, as a person who has been down that path, cowardice and ignorance have nothing to do with it. It is as if someone has replaced the marrow in your bones with sorrow and anger. When your joints refuse to move because of despair, it physically hurts. It has everything to do with wanting the pain and agony to stop.

Jesus Christ himself, in the Garden of Gethsemane, begged the Father, "...Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me..." (Mark 14:36). In modern revelation we hear, "Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— " (D&C 19:18). Now, I do not mean to say that those whose pain and suffering because of depression or other problems is equal to that of the savior. I mean to say that as mortals, as normal children of God, there is no worse pain than feeling despair, sorrow, and anger in the very core of you.

You who would condemn those who have suffered should take a step back and remember these words:
Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.
Uctdorf continues,

"We must recognize that we are all imperfect—that we are beggars before God. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy — to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?"

So, seriously, if you have been there, it is joyous that you found your way back. If you are there now, I hope and pray that you can find your way back. If you have not been there, shut up.