Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Letter versus Spirit

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. - Matthew 7:1-2

I'm afraid I've mislead a lot of you. I don't want to help perpetuate the stupid stereotype that liberal Mormons aren't good, strong Mormons because I'll tell you right now I'm not (not strong, that is). I used to be. You could've called me Molly and I would've not only answered but also beamed with pride. Not now. I don't think this makes my views any less important or relevant. I'm trying really hard to do what is right - too hard, I think. I've seriously and literally made myself sick over it the last few days.

There are plenty of good, strong LDS liberals though, and their political views are strongly supported by scripture. Not to say they are better supported than that of our conservative counterparts, but supported just the same.

Really, what it all tends to come down to is our ability to trust in each other. Like Joseph Smith said, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

We are taught to pray about things, to "ponder" (hate that word) and meditate, study the scriptures and search things out in our minds and then in our hearts. When we've come to a decision, we go to God in prayer for his blessing.

Sometimes our decisions aren't what the Church at large would bless, but what if God's answer to our prayers confirmed our wayward decisions?

What if?

I believe with everything in me it's happened. It happened to me with Proposition 8. I felt a peace that took such a burden off my shoulders when I finally decided after much prayer in my heart. Others have told me similar stories, and too many others have rebuked them, saying that since their "answers" go against what GA's have said or otherwise, that they are automatically wrong. I think that's a load.

Is this church really the one for everyone on the planet? I don't think so.

There is much to love about this Church. It's brought me independence in a way I couldn't have found before. It's brought me a deeper meaning and relationship with God that I couldn't have found anywhere else. Teachings regarding our not having to pay for Adam's transgression and that of the Godhead resonated. Even as a child attending Pentecostal churches, I never believed in the Trinity.

I still believe in those things, and I hesitate to pick and choose - but what if?

The world isn't as cut and dry as we want to think. We are told the Gospel is simple and perfect, but that is only in its basics. When things start to not make sense, we complicate and lose our faith, either that of our own or of others, in the process.

We all have diferent histories and experiences; we're all wired differently. That's what's so cool about life.

So how often do we limit God's mercy to that of repentance and nothing else?

We look upon those who have left the Church or live, in varying degrees, a life contrary to what it teaches as lost souls. What if some of them are not so much lost but simply on a different path? What if?

Should we really be so strict? It's easy to live within well-defined boundaries. We won't mess up that way - but we're supposed to mess up. If we weren't supposed to, we wouldn't have repentance. Let's trust God and His plan for us and our brothers and sisters.

While we need to take care, we also need to understand that God has a plan for us all, and sometimes that plan takes us on different paths. As long as we're paying due attention to ourselves and praying along the way, I think we'll be okay.

Why must we complicate the basics? Love of our fellow man. Love of God. I feel we're more concerned with justice than we are mercy.

I really do believe we all pick and choose (see the Word of Wisdom - seriously, how many of us hunt and eat more meat and less grain? how easy it is to not drink and smoke, but that? naw. anyway). We're human. We do what is convenient for us...except for the bigger things. The more visible things. We want to appear righteous to even the detriment of our fellow man.

A friend of mine online told a story about a group of Priesthood who were asked "If you drove down the highway to find a sister in your ward stranded, would you give her a ride?"

As the story goes, far too many said they'd keep driving as to avoid the "appearance of evil" since they or she was married.

Spirit of the law or letter of the law?

I've known people who are so intent on going to the temple no matter what to even ignore the Spirit when it tells them to stay home. After having my second child, I suffered from mild to severe baby blues (not quite postpartum depression, but close). My SIL came over and told me she and her husband were planning a trip to the temple the next day, but they'd both felt that perhaps they were needed at home instead. After visiting me, she called and said she knew why she needed to stay home and that she'd be taking my oldest so I could rest the next day.

I had another friend not too long after that tell me that she believed that if anything was keeping her from the Temple, be it impressions, sickness, or a car breaking down, that it was Satan keeping her from her sacred work.

Sometimes that is the case, but I knew by then it wasn't always the case. My SIL taught me so much that day. The temple is important, service for the dead is important (and just the communion with God is important), but not nearly as important as service for those who are living.

Sometimes our experiences lead us to prayers which lead us to do things that would seem wrong to most others, most notably those within the Church, because we want to live according to the letter. It's just easier and less messy that way.

I'm right with the lot of you who like to delve deep into study over doctrine and quotes and history. I actually had my Institute director tell me as a new convert that I shouldn't attend Church condoned conferences that went deeper because I "wasn't ready yet."


Why? It helps clear up so much. The Spirit is there to help us - Why are we so afraid? I think it's partly because we tend to want to live according to the letter, and delving deeper tends to invite us to think (the horror!) and perhaps see things in a different light.

God works in mysterious ways, and his ways are not our ways. I think too often we take this and stand up a little taller in our (self)-righteousness. We do belong to the One True Church, after all. But the world isn't like that.

All that matters is what is between God and you. If you are sincere in your journey for help in your decisions and ask God and he answers, then that's all that matters. That's what I think.

I'd like to end with this fabulous quote from Orson Scott Card's really amazing article entitled Is There an R-rated Movie Commandment? (I intend to toss in my own two cents soon. So many topic ideas. So much for that dry well. Anyway)

"President Hinckley in particular has tried to get us to make wise decisions about such things on our own, refusing to get roped into giving us specific regulations that allow us to turn off our own consciences.

"Yet there are always Latter-day Saints who want to live in a pharisaical church.

"The Pharisees had a pious goal: Because they wanted to avoid disobeying the law even by accident, they decided to 'build a fence around the law,' surrounding the deep principles of Torah with a lot of small, specific regulations, so that by obeying those little rules, the Lord's people could be sure they wouldn't accidentally stray from the great law.

"The problem is that such a 'fence around the law' can give us a false sense of safety. It's so easy to obey such laws and yet join the category of 'fools' and 'hypocrites' that Jesus repeatedly rebuked. You condemn your brother for the mote in his eye, Jesus said, but don't see the beam in your own. The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.

"Paul called them whited sepulchers, those hyper-obedient souls who went to extraordinary lengths to defend the law -- and broke it repeatedly with their pride and their persecution of others.

"Surely we can recognize that Jesus was not being lax or careless with the law when he resisted the Pharisees.

On the contrary. Jesus was teaching us that you can't build a fence around the law, and then feel safe. Instead you have to take the law into your heart and embrace it so that you understand and obey its purpose."

I totally agree.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. - Matthew 7:3-5


Alesia said...

I had an answer to a prayer once that went against what everyone else was saying and against pure logic. I received an answer to marry a man outside the Temple, a man who was very much a less than ideal husband. He had some serious problems, though he is a wonderful man underneath it all. Of course, I'm divorced now and I'm always wondering if I just 'heard' what I wanted to hear or heard an answer from Satan. But I tried really hard to be humble in receiving my answer. REALLY hard.

What I'm thinking now is that sometimes we do get answers to prayers..from Heavenly Father...which aren't necessarily for the reasons we think we're getting them. He knows us so well. I think He did give me that answer, but not because I was meant to be with my ex husband. I think it was for me (and him..we're both better people now) to learn a bunch of things; and I'm just barely starting to scrape the top of what I am supposed to learn.

Maybe you did get an answer from Heavenly Father about Prop 8 and other 'controversial' things. But, maybe it isn't because you're 100% 'right' about your stance on Prop 8. Maybe it's for other reasons for which you'll figure out as time goes on. If you're humble. That's the hard part for me. It's humbling to look back and see that maybe I got an answer for different reasons than being 'right'. Turns out I wasn't 'right', but maybe that's okay. That is REALLY hard..I tried SO hard and still made mistakes. Maybe that's what I'm supposed to learn. To be okay making mistakes. Who knows, but I can relate a lot to your feelings.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think only we can know when we're "ready" for deeper doctrinal study. And even when we think we're ready, we may find that it can be a long, hard road (which we know all too well), but there are certainly rewards.

I think, also, withholding information about deep doctrine that members want to know, or discouraging their curiosity, can backfire. I think it's sort of like when your young teenage kids start asking about sex. If you simply say, "you don't need to know," chances are that they will still want to know and they will hear it from someone else, who probably won't tell them exactly what they need to hear. Being uninformed about important things can hurt us mentally and physically, and I think that being uninformed about spiritual things may hurt us spiritually -- particularly if we only get distorted or partial truths from people who may not have our best interest at heart. I've told the story before on my blog about my cousin-in-law, who is black, and a convert to the Church. He went on a mission, having never heard about the priesthood ban because no one had ever told him about it -- until some rude person he ran into knocking doors said, "Don't you know that your Church don't want your kind?" As you can imagine, it was a horrible shock to him and it's a miracle that he didn't leave the Church.

I've often discovered (the hard way) that certain things that people say about Mormons and the Church that are hurtful and sound crazy to us are actually true, or at least partially true. I think it's unfair that anti-Mormons or anyone who does a search on the Internet can find out about some of the most troubling aspects of Mormonism -- and then twist the facts to suit their own anti-Mormon agendas -- and yet those of us who want to know as much as we can, so that people who hate us don't know more about us than we know ourselves, are often met by closed doors from many in our own Church. And then when those Mormons find that no one really wants to address any of these issues or sweep them under the rug, they get disillusioned, skeptical, and sometimes even bitter -- to the point that they sometimes leave the Church and even become its enemy.

Lisa said...

Alesia: First, welcome :) And yes, you make some excellent points. As long as we're doing everything "prayerfully" we should be fine - and we shouldn't judge others who seem to be doing weird or otherwise "apostate" things because we don't know everything. We like to think we do, but we don't.

FD: I've been thinking about that too - why do so many who leave the Church become so bitter about the Church? You came to much of the same conclusion I have - I think you've hit the nail on the head.

mfranti said...

ok, did you hijack my blog and read my unpublished post?

i hate when that happens.

good post! stay tuned for my version.

Lisa said...

let us know!

Natalie said...

Parts of this really hit home for me. Of the seven children in my family, I'm one of only two that has stayed in the church. For most LDS families, that would be tragic. But I look at my siblings, and look at what they have found in their lives, and I can see that it just fits.

I have one sister in particular who has quite radically different ideas about spirituality than LDS theology teaches. Any good Latter-day Saint would consider her views quite heretical and wicked. And, as we all hear way too often, "wickedness never was happiness." But guess what... her views fit. She isn't wired for a church like ours. She had to carve her own path. The journey she's on is beautiful and unique, and completely her.

I don't think those that have left the church are "lost souls". One of the things I love most about the Gospel is how inclusive it is. Do I think our church contains all truth? Um. No. God is not that small. The church is a mortal institution full of mortal people trying their best to carry out God's will. When Christ comes and fills that role himself, I do not expect it to look much like it does now.

Who's to say Buddha and Mohammed weren't just as inspired as Joseph Smith? Why can't God manifest his goodness to people throughout the world, and give them a means of worshiping him and becoming like him that is possible in the context of their lives?

I deeply love the church, and believe its teachings. But I do not believe it is the only way to God. I've seen too many people find God on other routes. This path seems to fit me, but I think it is terribly un-Christlike to imagine that it is an equally good fit for every person in existence.

Lisa, I wish we could talk in person about this kind of stuff. Let me know if you plan a trip to good ol' PA anytime soon, k?

Lisa said...

Ah, Nat, if I could hug you I would. Thank you. So much. I wish there were more of you.

Why do all the ultra cool people NOT live in California?

I will absolutely let you know. Same goes for you if you find yourself coming to California anytime soon. I'm afraid LA might be too far away, but San Francisco is rather lovely. ;)

Natalie said...

Robert and I actually think Northern Cali is a pretty likely destination for our post-school relocation. It's that or Hawaii. :)

Lisa said...


That would be beyond awesome.