Knowledge and Wisdom, Mind and Heart

I recently was confronted by a sudden onset of real cognitive dissonance in thinking about the gospel and the plan of salvation. The level of confusion and frustration was not one I think I’d ever experienced before. My actions haven’t always been in-line with what I’d always been taught, I’ve had long stretches where I wasn’t really worried about any of it making sense and largely just ignored it. But I’m not sure I’d ever really had such a hard time seeing how something I thought I believed really made sense. I wondered if I even wanted to believe in a system and in a God the way I’d been hearing both described. I was worried about where my mind was going and holding on to my faith. I didn’t know how to align my experiences with what seem to be prevailing perspectives.

I’ve been lucky enough to have experiences that have convinced me, in no uncertain terms, that I don’t know everything, and that I am seriously better off if things go the way God wants than the way I plan them. My best efforts to figure everything out are going to be limited. In order to be comforted by that rather than frustrated or worried, I have to believe that God is there and He loves me, and if I do my part to stay connected to Him, things will work out. I have to believe it and my experiences have reinforced that belief.

What that requires, for me, is to let go of things that don’t make sense to me, and know that more answers will come. Sometimes that requires hoping and believing that answers we think we have, all the things we think we have figured out, the details, especially of life after death, may actually be beyond our understanding or ability to interpret. I believe that God loves me and I know I’m happier when I am staying close to Him. To prevent confusion and cognitive dissonance from causing me to doubt that belief, and the experiences that support it, I have to believe that we don’t have as many answers as we believe we have, even that we might have a few things wrong. I have to be careful about assuming which things we have wrong, but continue to rely on my belief in a loving God, and continue to seek out experiences where I feel His love.

I feel the power of, and want to continue to echo this prayer from a hymn (‘As I Search the Holy Scriptures’).

May my heart be blessed with wisdom, and may knowledge fill my mind

Let me be receptive to knowledge but not limited, distracted, or dissuaded by it. Let me remember the wisdom I’ve gained from what I’ve felt and experienced. Let both my mind and heart be open to knowledge and wisdom, but if the knowledge isn’t lining up for me, let me rely on and be motivated by the wisdom I feel in my heart.

 

Being a Part of Being One

Tonight was the “Be One” 40th anniversary celebration, which was great.  I can’t decide if I hope someday there will be a similar celebration of unity when it comes to gay people in the church, or if I hope there doesn’t need to be because the idea of differences among believers just becomes so normal. I think I’d prefer the latter, and that’s much more likely. Gay culture doesn’t seem like it has much that could be celebrated within a church context.
Maybe I just wish that tonight, in the message of inclusivity – saying that “differences in culture, language, gender, race and nationality fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer” – I wish that statement had included the word ‘sexual orientation’.  I wish there was more stated inclusiveness for that group. At the same time, I’m not sure what that would look like. I understand not wanting to put race and homosexuality in the same category, it isn’t fair to either group, though they do have the comment element of being different from a norm, not by choice.
Love and inclusiveness is what has been taught in my church experiences, but there is something about the prophet or other church leader explicitly, very publicly, and proactively (rather than reacting to questions or accusations) expressing that inclusiveness. But I don’t know what I want the church to do. It’s not an easy line to walk for an institution, easier for individuals to ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’. Hard for an institution designed to help encourage and support ‘non-sinful’ behavior. And yet I find myself sort of yearning for a similar message of inclusiveness to what I saw tonight.
 I’m lucky to feel that from my friends and family, and from the Lord. I know I’m loved the way I am, that happiness is the plan, and that I’m supported as I try to get there…that’s more than a lot of people can say. I don’t need a worldwide celebration to  say Amen and Hallelujah to that.

Wandering Heart

I was listening to Come, Thou Fount a few days ago and was struck by the third verse:

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;  
here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above. 

What could be a better description and acknowledgement of the human condition? I do feel myself prone to wandering, prone to distraction, prone to leaving or distancing myself from the gospel despite the fact that I have found such peace and hope there. 
And why is that? We read that the natural man is an enemy to God – so is that resistance just built into us? Something in us wants to separate and put distance between us and the Lord? Or something in us is just irresistibly drawn to things that are inherently distancing? 
I’m not sure which is more accurate but I feel that pull. So I love the idea of being able to give the Lord my heart in the moments where I’m not wandering, and love the thought of being sealed in that act somehow. 

Let thy goodness, like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee. 

Alogical Path of Testimony

Sometimes the process of coming to believe is talked about as though it were simply a logical argument involving deductions from one initial conclusion, typically relating to the restoration. If I believe the Book of Mormon is truly the word of God then I must also believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, and similar conclusions must also be drawn about other elements of church doctrine. I’ve heard similar things regarding beliefs about the Savior – He can’t just have been a really good moral teacher so you must believe that either He was a crazy person spouting crazy ideas about being the son of God, or that He really IS the son of God, that He is our Savior, that He performed miracles, etc.

I’m not denying the logic of those chains of thought but, at least for me, a belief in the Book of Mormon didn’t come as one of the first tenets of my testimony, nor did that belief, when I did come to it, somehow automatically set off a chain of belief in the rest of church doctrine. And certainly, for me, holding the belief that Christ was not a crazy person did not lead to my testimony of the Atonement.

The other day a friend asked me why missionaries don’t talk about Joseph Smith all that much when they talk about why they’re choosing to serve and what message they want to share. Her thought, based on her previous experience with the church, was that Joseph Smith is key, due to something like the logical testimony chain described above. Belief in the church (any and all of it) starts and ends with a belief in Joseph Smith and his role as a prophet, a restorer of truth, and maybe even a near-perfect man. Probably for her, and for many people, it’s hard to get past some of the less positive aspects of the Joseph Smith story, and church history in general. Without the story of the founder being everything one might hope, how can anything that has followed since be believed?

There are most certainly negative and disappointing stories to be found about early church leaders, and even more current leaders or other elements of the church.  I’ve not spent any time researching any of the baggage that is to be found and even my familiarity with some of the more commonly discussed incidents is very limited. My friend referenced a quote along the lines of, ‘Faith is easiest in the dark,’ her take on it being primarily that faith is much easier when you can’t really see, and my guess is she thinks that I’m just not seeing a lot of things that might dampen my faith.

But I’m not sure what the goal of that pursuit might be. For me it doesn’t feel like it would be about the pursuit of truth, not because I think all the anti-church literature is full of made-up stories and lies, but because I already believe that these things exist. I know there are facts and stories out there that would be faith-shaking (though not necessarily faith-eliminating). LIke most people I struggle with many, many things I am already aware of that I don’t understand, and I’ll continue to struggle to try to figure these things out. But I’m fairly certain I won’t understand everything about which I wonder or have doubts. Life has and will provide me with lots of those so when it comes to the things I’ll spend my time seeking, I’d rather look for things that will be faith-promoting and uplifting.

And thankfully there are things about which I don’t have doubts. I believe my testimony is founded upon the only sure foundation. I explained to my friend that I didn’t think Joseph Smith was the lead message for most missionaries because he isn’t the core of the gospel, and he certainly isn’t the core of my beliefs.

I like the way Paul said it when he wrote to the Corinthians, having heard that they were focusing their faith on him or on other teachers and messengers:

Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? Who then is Paul but a minister by whom ye believed? For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and an instrument in God’s hands in restoring truth that had been lost and spreading that truth across the earth, but my testimony did not start and does not end with him. My testimony of the gospel did not follow logically from the Joseph Smith story – rather it has come line upon line, in a somewhat unpredictable order, based on my own experience with the principles of the gospel as I’ve come unto Christ. He is the foundation of my beliefs. The change and hope I’ve found, really all the things worth having, are of Him and through Him

It Is Wonderful

In the wake of my announcing my decision to go on a mission I have received an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and general good wishes. It’s been really lovely to feel such a sense of caring from surprising and unexpected sources.

And as I’ve been feeling all this love I’ve been thinking about how it’s all really just an approximation of the love of the Savior. Unfortunately it is all too easy to forget the mercy, love and devotion of the Savior. But I’m trying to remember the greater love which no man hath than this – that He should care for me enough to die for me! 

I stand all amazed and confused and I marvel and tremble that He died for me, such as I am. Not just an earnest though imperfect soul, but one so rebellious and proud as mine. He has extended his great love unto me…sufficient to redeem, to justify, and to own my salvation, and as such He owns my loyalty, my will and my heart in the best possible way.

The Speed of the Right

I was watching one of my favorite movies the other night – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – wherein a main character  expresses his belief that, “Everything will be alright in the end…so if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” Similar sayings are thrown out all the time at church, “Faith in God includes faith in His timing,” or “This too shall pass.”

As I am not naturally inclined towards faith or optimism, when i hear quotes like this I often think, “Yeah, well there’s a nice little saying that’s impossible to argue with.”

The Faithful Optimist: Oh you have problems? Oh you’re not getting answers? Oh praying and reading your scriptures and going to church aren’t providing the blessings you’ve always been told they would? Well…endure to the end! You just have to wait.

The Realistic (Pessimistic) Person with Problems: I have waited and I keep trying, I just haven’t seen or felt any indication that God exists, let alone felt God’s support in my life.

The Faithful Optimist: God’s timing sometimes requires a lot of waiting…you know the saying, “They never said it would be easy, they only said it would be worth it.”

Discussion over. Realistic (Pessimistic) Persons with Problems can never win this argument! The only way a conclusion can be drawn about what is good, right and true is if the answer or result the Faithful Optimist expects comes. If it doesn’t, then the conclusion is that more waiting is required. If you already claim to know what answer or result will come, if you don’t believe there is even the possibility that problems won’t be resolved or answers won’t come, then really at heart you’re already a Faithful Optimist, not a Realistic (Pessimistic) Person with Problems.

So I wonder if there are Persistent People Who Wait, the Realistic (Pessimistic) Persons with Problems who aren’t overtaken by their problems and pessimism but keep patience and hope alive….if these people exist and if they wait, and wait, and wait….all the way to their deathbeds and then finally think, “All this time I thought I was just waiting but now I’m out of time. Apparently everything I was ever told wasn’t true. Belief in God’s timing and waiting and enduring was really just blind faith and ignorant optimism. Things don’t work out, God doesn’t exist!”

And when I carry out that train of thought to that extreme I suppose there could even be a whole lot of Really Persistent People Who Wait, along with the Faithful Optimists, who maintain hope and belief right up till they die, only to stay very dead and never realize their dreams of eternal life.

Well…so what? Were those people worse off because they believed things would work out? I don’t think so. Maybe it could be argued that their’s is just a case of simple people living in the bliss of ignorance – but is bliss so bad? Especially compared with an alternative like “life sucks and then you die?”

I have recently joined the ranks of the Faithful Optimists (well, am in the process of slowly learning how these people think) and as irritating as I find it, I really can’t see any downside to this philosophy. I believe things will work out, that hard things accrue to my benefit. This belief helps motivate me to keep trying and to seek the Lord’s help. It is what allows me to appreciate progress that is made and believe continued progress and positive days are ahead. Really it gives me hope.

Even on the days where I wonder, where I discount the positive and the good, where I start comparing the years of misery to more recent, mere months of contentment, I can’t help but recognize the rationality of hope and optimism.

Be that prayer again repeated,
Ne’er despairing, though defeated
Pains, nor toils, nor trials heeding, 
And in heav’n’s good time succeeding.
God Speed the right. God speed the right. 

 

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake

Today I am thinking about fear – for a variety of reasons, some rational and some not, I feel a little like the kid trying to learn to ride a bike without training wheels but keeps getting derailed by looking back to make sure the dad is still holding onto the bike. There is that old saying about faith being the opposite of fear, the two not being able to coexist, and I’m finding that it truly is difficult to maintain a sense of faith when fear is on the brain.

Faith is a little bit new for me still but I’m an old hat with fear. I understand fear, I know what things to be afraid of so I get into panic mode sometimes when I feel like I’m having a down day – down days can quickly spiral into down weeks or months. Or I get a little freaked out when I’m feeling spiritually detached – that can become a years-long drought. For whatever reason, those fears have just been more prominent in my mind and heart of late.

However, I’m grateful that despite the prominence of the fear, I’m not forgetting the rewards I’ve experienced as a result of faith. They are just as real, even if sometimes they seem harder to justify or explain, easier to rationalize, or maybe just harder to remember. Negative experiences tend to maintain a greater degree of vivacity in my memory than do the positive ones, my Sadness brain operator is maybe a little more strong-willed than Joy (Inside Out reference) – one reason I’m trying to record what I think/feel/believe more regularly.

Ultimately I do believe the Lord is on my side. I know He won’t always be holding on to my bike but that it’s important not to panic. I haven’t been in some kind of faith bubble that might burst at any moment. He hasn’t gone anywhere and isn’t going anywhere – He will not leave me or forsake me.

Spirit of Digression

I’ve had a great couple weeks, full of mostly good things and a nice break from my everyday routines. But despite all the positives I’ve definitely noticed a slip in my spiritual momentum, which I attribute to being somewhat overcome by the spirit of digression.

I have a lot of thinking time built into my regular life, time I haven’t necessarily had to set aside but which just exists and is available to me without much effort on my part. I use it to think about things I like and find interesting, which, as of late, have been largely spiritual in nature. Over the last few weeks my built-in thinking time essentially disappeared and my efforts to carve out time or dedicate mental energy to anything spiritual were half-hearted and mostly unsuccessful. When I did manage to carve out time, I spent it on social media or email. A few times I planned to do some thinking before bed but after long days, I would climb in bed and start to drift off – not a state conducive to good thinking.

Generally I didn’t miss my thinking time while I was with family or friends or off enjoying beautiful scenery or doing other things I love. But in retrospect I have been missing the moments of peace and rest, that call me from a world of care

Studying, pondering, praying….I’ve never been great at those things nor have I ever really enjoyed them so I always thought this phrase from Alma 32 was only applicable to the overly-churchy (those who talk a big game) or the next-level spirits (those who might as well just be twinkled right now because we all know where they’re going to end up), and I never expect to be a part of either group. But the surprising absence of spiritual nourishment I’ve felt over the last few weeks truly has helped me recognize the way all the studying, pondering, praying, etc. is delicious to me.

I believe in the benefits of dedicating time to spiritual pursuits and have seen how they truly enlarge my soul and enlighten my understanding.

A = Faith

In my first logic class at BYU I learned about a basic argument form called modus ponens (MP):
1) If A, then B
2) A
Therefore, B

This week I’ve been thinking about lots of B’s…principles I don’t understand, decisions that are intimidating with possibilities and consequences I can’t quite see my way to. But then I keep coming back to my A: Hard things, especially hard things undertaken in faith and obedience, give me experience and will be for my good.

Why do I do the B’s? Why should I do them? Do I believe in the B’s? Well I know I believe in A. Confusion, doubt, risk, humility, obedience, pain, sacrifice – they all accrue to my benefit, even if it takes a long time to gain the perspective necessary to recognize that benefit.

Not everything about the gospel follows simply and logically from A, but A gives me confidence that just about any B will work out in the end. If I leave the B’s to the Lord and focus on my faith in Him, A is enough.

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on

I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene – one step enough for me.

.

Choosing without seeing the path

I am trying to figure out the whole “answers to prayers” thing. Not the type of answers involving help or comfort in difficult situations, but more along the lines of guidance or direction when making big decisions.

It’s not been something I have worried too much about previously – I think that generally it doesn’t matter too much (in the grand, eternal scheme of things) what I choose. Even with the seemingly big decisions I’ve made up to this point, I’m not sure there was a “right” or “wrong” decision, though it’s completely possible that one choice was part of a more direct path to progress and happiness, while the other was more circuitous with a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness along the way. But, at least so far, the biggish decisions I’ve made have worked out alright in the end. I don’t look back at any of them and wish I’d made a different choice because I wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned and wouldn’t be where I am now.

However….

I recognize that there are some decisions which are significant enough that the decision-maker would require, or at least really, really, really appreciate some affirmation of the direction in which they are leaning. Sometimes, when two roads diverge in a yellow wood, or anywhere else, if you’re really going to take the one less traveled by, or if you couldn’t care less which road is most traveled, but you think the road you choose will make all the difference, you want some reassurance that all that difference will be the positive sort.

As part of the decision-making process I have thoughts come into my head, sometimes as a result of connections to other thoughts, sometimes without any clear trigger. In my spiritual immaturity, I have yet to figure out how to distinguish my own thoughts from those which might be the result of the guidance of the spirit and inspiration from God.

I’ve been taught that things which are a good cometh of God. Maybe my “good” ideas, whatever they may be, aren’t just a result of my own cleverness and problem-solving skills, but they actually are a result of guidance and inspiration. That’s great for situations where the “good” choice can be fairly easily identified. But what about good, better, or best options? What if both roads could lead to continual goodness and love and service?

When all the thoughts and options bouncing around in one’s head are good ones, to some degree, that’s when it seems really difficult to figure out what guidance is being provided. There’s always a wonder – was that thought just mine or was that significant somehow? Did I just impose this feeling on that thought because it’s what I want to feel? Am I trying to convince myself that I’m making the right decision for the right reasons when really I just want to make it for selfish or stupid reasons? Does it matter what the reasons are if the result is a good one? But what if both results, to do or not to do, are good ones? Was hearing that comment from that person just now simply a coincidence? Is this thing just on my mind and now I hear about it everywhere? Am I creating a self-fulfilling prophecy so that I have external validation of something I want?

If I were to hear all this, as an external observer, I would roll my eyes at the indecisiveness – just pick one! Everything works out in the end. But I know that there are some decisions where waiting till things work out in the end just doesn’t seem good enough, or might even seem fairly terrifying. A lot of crappy stuff can happen before one arrives at the “end” where things work out.

Of course I know that if, when faced with a difficult decision, the best option was always clear, the degree to which free will plays a role would be greatly diminished.

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Agency in the face of opposition or confusion is required or there would be no good or bad choices to benefit or suffer from. And then there’s that faith thing again…acting on hope for things (inspiration, guidance, and direction included) which are not seen. I had thought the big, big decisions typically came as a result of a little motivation-via-revelation, but maybe even the big decisions, those that seem so big even taking one step without at least some degree of inspiration feels like taking a truly blind, flying leap across a giant chasm…maybe those decisions just require chasm-size faith.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now…Lead thou me on!