Archive for the ‘blind obedience?’ Category

“He has great taste,” my friend said before we began yesterday’s leadership meeting.

“I picked it out,” I replied. I had just told her that Steve, a man I taught as a full time missionary, bought me the dress for my birthday I was wearing. It’s probably one of my new favs.

It’s a Shabby Apple dress. Some Latter-day Saint business women run this company. Turns out there’s a market for stylish modest clothes.

You can find previous posts about how Mormons wear a special underclothing as a reminder of their covenant to remember Jesus Christ at:

 Magic Mormon Underwear Gets a Mention at the Believing Brain Discussion

 Mormon Underwear: A Constant Personal Reminder to Always Remember Jesus Christ and Keep His Commandments

MacGyver Groupie and Lengthy Leggings

This dress is called Overboard and can be found here. It doesn’t come with the belt pictured.

I got this red belt at a BYU lost and found sale for $2.00. I’m just waiting for the day when some BYU grad (there are many in the DC area) reveals they lost one just like it.

Several people at Church independent of each other told me that I looked like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. The married missionary couple said it, the ward clerk and my friend who is “investigating” as we call it when someone is considering joining also mentioned it.

I was going more for the Fourth of July picnic in the middle of winter look, but whatev.

Remembering teaching Steve makes me smile.

An area leader came to our mission and promised us that if we contacted all the “part member families” in the ward, then by Christmas (in 6 weeks), we’d be teaching someone who would accept the restored gospel.

My companion and I prayed diligently in every single prayer, which as a missionary is a whole lotta prayers, that we could realize that promise in our little part of the vineyard.

Our ward clerk printed a list of everyone who did not have a member spouse.  Then we went about outreaching to people on the list.

I’ll never forget that day. Steve says he knew “it was over” when he saw us walking up because he felt it in his heart. We had no clue. At this point lots of people had shot us down, but we kept praying and kept inviting. We believed someone would be ready.

He had been taught by Sister missionaries years before, which is how he came into the Church. He had gone “less active” as we call it when someone has been baptized and quits participating in the community of Christ.  He was even an ordained high priest and served in that capacity for years before going less active. Being a high priest and walking away is a big deal to Mormons. Because such a person has a great deal of knowledge, God will hold them accountable to that knowledge.

Bishops had visited him many times before to invite him back and so did other missionaries. To put it politely, he wasn’t very nice to them.

Now was his time.

I asked if we could teach him the missionary lessons. Gruffly, he said he already knew the lessons—he even used to teach them himself.

“Then we can teach each other,” I replied.

“There’s no point in me going to Church because I’m not worthy to take the Sacrament,” he said.

“Then you can become worthy,” I replied.

The Sacrament to a Latter-day Saint is a sacred ordinance reminding us of the body and blood of Christ. It renews the baptismal commitment to always remember Jesus Christ and keep the commandments. If you quit keeping commandments, you are to abstain from the Sacrament until you realign yourself with them.

Steve said he was drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, both are against the health code we believe is revealed from God for our time.

He agreed to have us back.

When we returned we were prepared to invite him to quit coffee right away and in later visits we planned to work with him on the cigs.

It was a Sunday when we came back. I was the one that invited him to stop drinking coffee.   He said he would and that he would stop smoking, too, and if he could stop smoking by Wednesday, he’d be to Church on Sunday.

I wish I had a picture of our faces. I hope I get to see that at judgement when my life is reviewed. We were surprised to say the least.

I asked if he was sure.

He was.

And he did.

Now he serves in the Dallas Temple every Saturday.

It was his time.

And we did find a part member family that we were teaching by Christmas and who later received the gospel by baptism. Well, they found us. We wouldn’t have otherwise found them because they weren’t on our list, but that’s another story.

I have lived over and over in my life that when we exercise faith through prayer, the Lord gives us spiritual power to bring about His goodness.

As I’ve mentioned before, God is really good at connecting people who should meet at the right time if we but exercise faith in Him. He works according to our faith.

I believe that a modern prophet prayed about where I should be called as a missionary and by the spirit of prophecy, I was sent to connect with certain people at the right time and invite them to come unto Christ and receive the restored gospel.

I’m not feigning modesty when I say it’s amazing to see it’s God working through me. Realizing answers to prayers isn’t because I have stored up awesome-ness. It’s God. But I do have a part in preparing myself to be His messenger.

Feeling the power of God move through me has forever changed my life. It motivates me to continue seeking after Him.

As I do, I meet  people like Steve.

That makes life oh so good.

 

To my delight, Michael Shermer was Stephen Colbert’s guest this last week. It was interesting to see Stephen’s tone at the following point in the interview. He’s a practicing Catholic, so I wonder how much of this was portraying his conservative-pundit-caricature and how much was the real Stephen being playful with a nonbeliever.

Colbert: “You used to be a Christian, right?

Shermer: “That’s right.

Colbert: “Jesus misses you…He told me.

Shermer: “He did? Well why didn’t he talk to me?

Colbert: “Because you don’t believe.”

Shermer: “If being talked to depends on whether I believe or not, then that means it doesn’t really exist, it’s all up here in my head, which is the point of my book, that it’s all up here.

I sympathize with the criticism of prerequisite belief for a confirmation of God’s existence. On its face, first believing before you can believe smacks of the very kind of self-deception Shermer tags onto believers.

However, God works according to the faith we exercise.  If we thought of God as a painter, our offered faith is the medium with which He paints. The more we offer to Him to use, the more He does on the canvas. If someone doesn’t outreach to God, they’re not offering the faith that will produce miracles.

Compare Shermer’s I-won’t-believe-until-I-have-evidence  approach to this ancient American soon-to-be christian convert’s prayer:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee…”

(Alma 22:18).

This man wasn’t sure if what he was learning from Aaron was true, but he was willing to ask with the hope he’d receive an answer. He also was willing to sacrifice to gain the desire of his heart, which is also a prerequisite to recognizing the Holy Ghost or in other words, receiving answers to prayers.

This  prayer was the catalyst of a spiritual experience that led him to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

From what I know about Jesus, Stephen Colbert was right, Christ does miss Michael Shermer. He’d like to offer Shermer the kind of communication that affirms His existence, but it would likely take Shermer’s initiation and humility.

Speaking of doubts, I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. It would hurt his book sales.

(Surely, God can initiate with whomever He wishes, but the usual pattern is we outreach to Him in trust and He confirms. I must say the Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to fit this pattern of ask in faith first, then communication comes, but we don’t know the backstory of what’s absent from the record. As an observant Jew, he very well could have been seeking God’s will and received an unexpected answer on the road to Damascus.)

Here’s the video

The post “Magic Mormon Underwear Gets a Mention at the Believing Brain Discussion” and the post “My Response to the Shermer Lecture“ relate to my interaction with Michael Shermer.

 

This post relates to this post.

“I know it’s not my brain,” I told my friend on our way home from the Michael Shermer discussion at sixth&i. I was trying to explain that my spiritual experiences weren’t imaginary.  He responded simply, “How do you know it’s not your brain?” He wasn’t trying to make me feel foolish for my claim. If he was willing to treat me that way, I wouldn’t choose to spend any discretionary time with him. He just wanted to hear how I could be so sure. He’s not sure there’s a God and he’s not sure there’s not. Whatever the truth is, he just wants to know it. I like that about him. I’m increasingly more appreciative of self-honest people these days.

“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” I told him.

This is the part where I’d refer to the profile I wrote for this blog, but I see now that it’s deleted. Shoot. Anyway, I would have used it to demonstrate that the ongoing questioning process is key to my walk of faith. Some people feel like their faith is shaky when they start to question things they previously accepted. One of the most often repeated invitations in scripture is to “ask.” It is usually coupled with the promise and “ye shall receive.” I’ve lived that promise, more than I can count. As I have had innumerable experiences with the Divine (one described in the post “Why I Believe“), it increases my confidence to deepen in my questions and seek more.

Through this process, I have a few personal beliefs that others in the Church accept as true, but I personally think are more products of our culture. Some of Latter-day Saint belief (and other faith tradition beliefs, too) is based on logical inferences drawn from writings accepted as revelations. We have the words of prophets, living and dead, and we have the Holy Ghost whose role is to “teach us all things” (John 14:26). Then, God invites us to make sense of it and ask along the way to fill in the gaps and gain a personal understanding of truth.

I’m finding it’s a lifelong process to really take this venture seriously. As I am open and willing to reexamine what I’ve previously accepted, I come to better know God. It’s highly motivating to continue forward.

Though as a general practice I like to think myself special, I’m not alone in this approach.  I have lots of Latter-day Saint friends who approach their faith similarly.

The stereotype that people of faith are close-minded likely comes when people attack them, which seems to be the style of the atheist/non-theist community (you can see the comments in the previous post for an example of this). If my friend had treated me this way, first we wouldn’t be friends much longer, and second, I likely would have appeared close-minded because I would end the conversation.

 

After that Background, Here’s my Response

This brings me back to Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Gods to Ghost and Politics and Conspiracies and my own brain activity. His thesis is that the brain naturally looks for patterns as it processes its environment.   The brain then forms these patterns into belief that people confirm with self-selected proof, ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Further, through these beliefs, the brain can even produce experiences perceived as supernatural, especially when someone is alone or sleep deprived.  These perceptions are fired by neurons in the brain, self produced by these formed beliefs.

I think he’s right, to a point. It’s a usable thesis to generally explain some instances of why people believe as they do. It especially applies to prejudices and stereotypes. I’m hoping that in his book he has something stronger with regards to experiencing the “supernatural” beyond the examples he provided in his lecture. He personally stayed up for 72+ while driving and hallucinated human forms on the side of the road. Once he slept, it ended.  He also used an example of prisoners in solitary confinement. These hardly match similar circumstances of those who claim to have been visited by heavenly messengers or other comparable reports.

The skeptic’s approach is to think critically, meaning you look for evidence and draw conclusions based on it, which I appreciate and practice. Some people find me intolerable because I sometimes ask questions that require them to show what evidence led them to their conclusion.  The skeptic’s model of truth discovery declares that if there’s no substance to an assertion, it should be rejected. Because of the critical thinking approach, they view faith in God claims as comparable to belief in Santa Claus and fairies.

This is the part that atheists/nontheists will find terribly dissatisfying. My faith operates in a model that shares similar aspects to this evidence-based approach, but relies on the Holy Ghost to confirm what is substantial.

 

My truth discovery model with regards to faith

Alma, an ancient American prophet, in a discourse on faith invites readers to “experiment on the word” and to “exercise even a particle of faith.”   Are you a skeptic and don’t have any faith to exercise? Alma says simply the desire to believe is enough (Alma 32:27).

The process in which I engage to explore truth claims is the following:

  1. I have an idea.
  2. I pursue that idea. Alma describes this as giving “ place, that a seed (the word) may be planted in your heart.” (Alma 32:28).
  3. I discern by the Holy Ghost if the results are worthy of keeping or tossing out. Alma says you can identify it as a good seed if it enlarges the soul, enlightens the understanding, and/or begins to be delicious (Alma 32:28). Further, he says that if it is light, it is good. (Alma 32:35).
  4. I cultivate the good idea by rinsing, repeating and pursuing more good ideas.

What I anticipate is incredibly preposterous to an atheist/nontheist is that this experiment can’t be physically measured; it is only spiritually experienced. And yes, it happens in the mind and some could clearly apply Michael’s model and self-deception claims to it.  I’m not trying to disprove him because I don’t think it’s possible to prove either way. I’m just trying to explain my worldview. There have been times when I completely wanted something so badly that I would have willed it so, if possible. I’ve received answers to prayers that were completely different directions than my mind was petitioning for.  If it was my self-deception, I anticipate I would always get or believe exactly as I was seeking. This isn’t the case.

I’ve also tested and pursued ideas that turned out to be a flop. They didn’t grow and enlighten as other ideas I’ve tested.

Being tutored by the Holy Ghost requires humility and a willingness to act on any enlightenment received. I’m currently living and experiencing this process and at times have had my mind and heart enlightened and filled with light as I’ve considered the things of God. I have a certainty that not only there is a God, but that He cares about me.  I’m not certain of a great many other things in the Church. I simply believe them. I’m still working on the certainty. It takes a lot of work.

The enlightenment by the Holy Ghost is a different experience than other pursuits of the mind. I wish I could explain this, but am currently not able to. This is likely what is so frustrating to an atheist/nontheist. Since spirituality is experienced, individually, it’s difficult to put into a box for display and evaluation.

During the post-lecture book signing, Michael asked me if I was raised Mormon. When I replied yes, he said, “of course,” as if I wouldn’t believe in gods, ghosts, politics or conspiracies any other way. I must say that I feel it was to my advantage to be raised within a framework to test ideas through the spiritual process I’ve explained.  I was able to amass lots of communication from God by the Holy Ghost before my secular world taught a different framework of discovering truth. I have three very smart friends who are currently trying to step into new areas of faith, but I believe they are operating from the perspective of show-me-proof-then-I’ll-believe.  This is the scientific model. I’m this way too because of my smarty-pants education. But I have the advantage of countless answers to prayers through the medium of the Holy Ghost under my belt that motivates me to continue believing and expanding spiritually.

Because this process requires humility, it only works if someone “becomes as a little child” as the Savior taught (Matthew 18:4). It’s a lot harder for adults. I can feel that in myself, which is why I feel so advantaged to have had many passed experiences in spirituality with the Holy Ghost  before I arrived to my less-trusting phase of life.

This process is rational in that it is a series of decisions made in my brain. Michael described neurons in the brain producing experiences. I suspect he may be right.

Now, I actually do think it’s coming from my brain.

I think that God perfectly navigates nature as its best scientist and as the creator. It’s a new idea to me that perhaps as the Holy Ghost is instructing me and enlightening my mind, He’s actually firing neurons in my brain to do it.  It’s a little unromantic-sounding, but if it’s the truth, I’d accept it. :)

 

 

Recently, I went camping near Burke, VA.  The weather forecast called for 50% chance of rain, but it never opened up. Only a lovely constant mist spritzed us as we played “croquisbee.”  What’s that you ask?  Well, it’s a cross between croquet and frisbee, of course.

Growing up in Florida, we didn’t camp much because mosquitoes are the size of rats, but while attending BYU, I frequently enjoyed camping. Much of it included marveling at the creative hand of God beneath a blanket of stars while lying on a tarp outside of Zion or Moab national parks.  The next morning would bring a hiking or canyoneering adventure. The best snapshots held in my mind capture the slight movement of the Milky Way across a vibrant blue-black backdrop of shimmering wonder.

On this excursion among the lush green Virginian landscape, I was friends with one of the hosts and another girl, but didn’t know many other people, so it was a great opportunity to become freshly acquainted around a campfire.

Myers-Briggs and Me

Through the course of some incredibly engaging conversation that in part addressed concerns for cultivating critical thinking skills in the rising “Digital Generation,” a fellow camping fella brought up the Myers-Briggs personality test. His perspective on the judging vs. perceiving portion was of particular interest to me. The words are poorly chosen, but in this case judging means that in dealing with the outside world, a person prefers to get things decided and perceiving means they prefer to stay open to new information and options.  He described himself as a perceiver, to which my friend agreed she was too. She said that when choosing a parking space, it’s difficult for her to choose because there may be one closer. I told her I’d prefer to park and be inside the restaurant instead of driving around and around the parking lot. She told me it’s funny I’d describe it as driving around and around because that’s just what happens. That would drive me nuts!

She said she read the book, the Paradox of Choice (Schwartz should have had more wardrobe choices in that linked video. I wonder if he was trying to prove a point or if he just has no style). This book describes how having too many options disables people.  She described an example in the book of a mall kiosk selling candles. It does better with less inventory because buyers are not halted with many options.  The fella asked me about my buying behavior. I said I go in with what I want in mind and when I find it, I buy it. I don’t care if there are five different shades or smells of candles available. Once I make a decision, that becomes the best option because it’s my choice. I got what I wanted and if it’s on sale, even better.  He asked me if I ever have buyer’s remorse.  I said if I really like it in the store, I like it even more bringing it home. After I decide, I don’t get hung up on what’s behind me at the store.

He described perceivers as essentially the opposite.  He said that even after a perceiver makes a decision, they constantly second guess themselves.  He said after he makes a purchase, he often looks back on the other options. He described how he finds his perceiver-ness influences his approach to dating.  He said he can see one woman’s good qualities, but then wants to keep looking for more good qualities in other women.  In my decisive mind, I thought it was unfortunate because it prevented him from really enjoying any of the women if he could decide on none of them. At that point I made a note to myself–Think twice about dating a strong perceiver, they may have high buyer’s remorse after “purchases.”

I also then realized that I consider decisiveness akin to manliness wondered if that was an unfair perception that I should change. I haven’t decided, yet.

Myers-Briggs and Some Mormons

We further discussed other aspects of the test and wondered which combination described the Perfect One, Jesus Christ.  We profiled Him as being both deeply contemplative, which is an “introversion” behavior and also well involved with people, which is “extroversion”.

Other than that, it was difficult to peg Him, so we moved on to our Church leaders. Here are the categories to provide context:

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Before I show my preference for some Apostles over others, which a Mormon actually shouldn’t do, here’s some context on myself.

As I’ve already confessed, I’m a strong “J.” I’m also a strong “N.” This means I like ideas and interpretation. I’m almost evenly divided between introversion and extroversion and though I’m typically dominant in a “T,” the last few years, my “F” has developed significantly (serving a full time mission and loving people with the Spirit without conditions was the catalyst to my “F” cultivation). You could guess my “F” awareness from how often I’ve written about emotional literacy. I have found an increase in my sense of fulfillment and life satisfaction as I’ve understood and experienced more of this dimension of myself, but I rarely make emotional decisions. In making a significant decision, I usually have to think things through quite a bit before I allow my “F” to even have space in the matter.  But I’m very heightened to my “F” when dealing with other people.  Weird combo, but I like it. I’d change it if I didn’t like it.  This essentially amounts to me possessing both INTJ and ENFJ characteristics.

Now to the Apostles. Latter-day Saints have an open scripture cannon because we accept that God has called again living Apostles and Prophets in our time. When one of these speaks by the Holy Ghost, it is equivalent to Peter, James or John.  And actually, a living Prophet or Apostle trumps a dead one because the message is given specifically for the generation. We also believe that God speaks through the human instrument’s understanding to communicate the message, so that’s how the messenger’s personality can be discerned through scripture that is also a message from God.

We determined Elder Bednar to be a strong “N” and “T.”  He often teaches concepts with which Church members are well familiar, but adds new insight so we think about it in a new way. His last conference talk ”The Spirit of Revelation” is an excellent example of this. He used light as the metaphor to teach revelation. In some cases, revelation comes like the flipping of a light switch into a darkened room.  Most Church members have this perception of revelation. He also described the rising sun, even on a foggy day where there is gradual enlightenment. Someone could even miss how they’ve been enlightened if they are not careful to watch for it.  This completely changed how I will seek to discern the Spirit in my life. He also changed how I think about the hymns in meetings with ”The Tender Mercies of the Lord” and changed the way I think of the command to ”Receive the Holy Ghost.”  These paradigm shifts are incredibly satisfying for me as I wrestle to discover and decide my spirituality in partnership with God.

We thought Elder Holland was both an “N” and “F.” He seems to me both brilliant and kind, which is why I benefit so much from his teachings. I feel like he “mourns with those that mourn,” which is among the Latter-day Saint baptismal covenant.  This is reflected in his “Place No More For the Enemy of My Soul” address where he grieves over broken marriages because of the plague of pornography in the world, which the Church does not escape. The likely best talk to illustrate his “N” and “F” is his talk, “None Were with Him”, which was intended for those “who are alone or feel alone or, worse yet, feel abandoned.” He then taught how Jesus Christ‘s role as our Savior included taking upon Him all these pains, so He can comfort us, “… Brothers and sisters, one of the great consolations of this Easter season is that because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so.” Ideas mixed with feelings are a wonderful way to instruct me of the goodness of God.

Then there are Apostles who are strong in “S.” This means they focus on basic, everyday life circumstances. Though I am always attentive to them and seek to draw lessons from what they are describing, the Spirit doesn’t speak to me as powerfully through them as with those who are strong “Ns.”  I think that’s because the Spirit’s ability to reach us heightens as we understand. I know when I better understand something, that is usually when I feel the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost.  But, there are likely lots in the Church who are strong “Ss” that the Spirit speaks most strongly to them through these mouthpieces. The Church is a big tent. If every speaker was according to my preference, it would miss a whole lot of people. (I’m likely something of an outlier when it comes to broad Church membership.) It’s wise of the Lord to call varied personalities to lead His Church to meet the needs of His flock.

With that said, I think that our Prophet now, Thomas S. Monson, is an “S.” I also think that our preceding Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley was also an “S.” They usually use stories from people’s lives to illustrate basic gospel principles.  How does it affect the Church having the Prophet be focused on the basics of everyday living?  It means the message to the Church has taken on a “live a good life” tone, rather than the more hardliner tones of preceding generations. That sounds like a good thing to me, though I personally don’t get as much out of their addresses as other Apostles’.  Focusing on living good lives, centered in the gospel, may be the best approach to take the gospel to all the world as it encompasses more and more peoples and cultures. Man, the Lord really is good at what He does.

What do you think?

Here’s a demonstration of President Monson’s “S.”

Remember my shameless bait to draw out insights from the  tremendous reservoir of Internet users?

No?

For the month of March, I offered a $10 gift card each to the top 3 MormonInsider visitors willing to both share posts with others and share their perspectives on the posts.

We can call these people top sharers. Everyone loves someone who shares good things.

Thanks to Elisabeth for sharing a specific example of the difficulty navigating the difference between being meek and being a pushover at “Blessed are the [pushovers] for they shall in inherit the earth“?

Thanks to Paul for sharing his satire, revealing the sometimes unacknowledged ridiculousness of gender expectations at “Can Women Ask Out Men and it Work Out?

Thanks to Afton for frequently sharing, especially for her perspective in “Do I Need a Man? A Woman with Needs or a Needy Woman?” I’m glad she added the insight about how fulfillment in life and in dating has more to do with how much you give of yourself, rather than looking for others to fulfill our needs.  I like how she looked to Christ to support her point.

A special thanks goes to Anonymous on “Modern Apostle’s Message: Question Your Guts Out.” She responded to the following instruction by Elder Bednar:

“Girls, if you’re getting serious with someone, you should ask,