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Author: Dan McDonald

Where is God?

Where is God?

God can be hard to find.  He is buried. (Matthew 13:44.) “The well is deep” (John 4:11), and because we must dig so deep to find the living water “few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14.)  But, if you’ve ever felt Love’s pure flow possess your body, you would sell all you have to keep it.  (Matthew 13:44.)  I’ve felt it. It is real.  And my passion in life is to help others tap in to the same flow of living water.  But where is it?  Where is God?

God is not up there.

God is not out there.

God is in our very DNA. (Genesis 1:26-27; Acts 17:28.) God is that primordial light of goodness and instinct to love, deeply embedded inside each one of us. (John 1:9; D&C 88:6–13).

He “dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24.) He “dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell[.]” (Alma 34:36.)

God is in our very DNA.

This indwelling of God is beautifully described in the Book of Mormon, Alma:32.  The “word”—which is simply a metaphor for the indwelling of Christ (Alma 34:5-6)—is compared to a seed (Alma 32:28).  Our job is to believe it is there, inside of us, and then yield to the flow and possession of God.  (See Alma 32:28-43.)

The Christ inside of us “swelleth and sprouteth” (Alma 32:30) and transforms us because “every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness” (Alma 32:31), including the likeness in which we were originally created (Genesis 1:26-27).  We discover the light inside of us that has been there all along.  (Alma 32:35.)  This light is the original incarnation, God-in-us.  (John 1:9; John 8:12.)

Faith, to a large degree, is believing and trusting in who you already are.

And as we discover our true identity and that our separateness from God was really just an illusion, we begin to see ourselves as a joint venture.  The seed is now a “tree” (Alma 32:37), and our lives are now lived not in the separateness of “me” and “God” but in terms of “us.”  “Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up and bring forth fruit unto us.” (Alma 32:37.) We are the same. One.  Part of the same whole. Vine and branch.  (John 15.)

Unfortunately, so much of organized religion has focused on the alleged distance between us and God, constantly battering us with notions of our separateness through sin and unworthiness.  Hence, we try to bridge the gap through merit, achievement, worthiness, and personal righteousness.  We try to earn our way back into God’s presence.

But God is not some vengeful, thunderbolt-wielding king sitting on a throne in yonder heavens, waiting for us to earn our way back into his good graces.  God, in fact, is “not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17 27.) He is our very life force.  “[I]n him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28.)  Try to voluntarily stop breathing, for example.  God, who is the very breath of life inside of you, won’t let it happen!  (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 7:22; Moses 3:4–7, 19; Abraham 5:7; Job 12:10; Job 33:4; Psalms 104:29; Isaiah 42:5; Ezekial 37:5; Zech. 12:1; Acts 17:25; Rev. 11:11.) He’s right there!  On this point, we could learn much about getting in touch with God from the Eastern religions.

This discovery of who you really are, who you are a part of, who really owns you, and who really possesses you yields the “fruit” of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith[.]” (Galatians 5:22.) Discovery of this fruit allows you to stop striving, stop pretending, stop competing, stop trying to keep up with the endless programs and checklists.  It allows you to abandon the pursuit of perfection because you realize you are already enough!  Change your consciousness from one where you are focused on your separateness from God to one where you are focused on your oneness with Him.

When you are in this state of consciousness and possessed like this, “ye hunger not, neither … thirst.” (Alma 32:42; John 6:35.)  Perhaps you think the word “possessed” is too strong.  But consider this explanation, taken from the same sermon in Alma 32:

“34 … that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell[.]”

Digging deep to discover this inner light, this inner seed, this inner well (choose your metaphor) requires faith to believe in your own inherent goodness and then to give place for that goodness in your life in concrete ways. It requires you to let go of your ego, your pride, and your shadow self, which is focused on getting others to love you, and to get in touch with your true self, which is focused on giving and expressing love to others. Stop caring what others think of you. Start caring about what you think of others. Faith, to a large degree, is believing and trusting in who you already are and whose you already are.  Faith is conscious participation with God in carrying out God’s desire to love the world. Faith is the courage to say “I don’t care” to much of the external requirements of religion, focusing instead on the internal work of getting in touch with your core identity and then living out its true purpose.

It’s not what you consume but what you produce that defines and discovers you.

Let me give you a shovel so you can start digging and tap in to this divine flow today.  First, pause daily to deeply contemplate what it means to love others. Some people call this prayer. Let that count as prayer for you.  Second, practice loving ways of being each day.  Let that count as “repentance.” Third, consciously strive to recognize how many times each day you worry about what others will think of you and then let it go, choosing instead to focus on how you feel about others. Let me give you the following 5 steps to make it even more concrete for you:

  1. Awaken to the center of loving kindness inside of you by remembering a time or times you have felt God’s love flow in and through you, either towards yourself or towards someone else.  Think of a time you have felt a strong sense of love and compassion. Search until you remember.  Write these rememberings down if you need to.
  2. Once you remember being in that flow, bring to your consciousness someone you love very much and then contemplate a concrete way you can channel that very same flow of love to bless that person’s life in some small way. Carry out what you have contemplated.  Do this daily. Don’t overextend yourself.
  3. Consciously repeat step 2 daily for each person that you consider as “close” or within your inner circle.
  4. When you have become more adept, experiment with extending the reach of your loving kindness beyond your inner circle, towards more casual acquaintances, then towards strangers, and then further yet to those outside any circle—your enemies.
  5. If you fail at step 4 (and you will), start over with step 1 instead of beating yourself up.  This is not a contest.  You are not trying to earn anything or repay anything. You are simply being who you really are. You are accomplishing the purpose of your existence merely by acting as a conduit of God’s love.  Where you channel God’s love matters far less than the fact that God’s love is, in fact, being channeled through you.

Experiment upon this state of being for a while and see what happens.  Do this if you are struggling with “sin” or addiction.  Instead of focusing on what’s wrong with you, focus on what’s right with you.  Nurture your true self and your shadow self will disappear. Nurture how you feel about others and you’ll stop worrying so much about how others feel about you.

You will discover that it’s not what you consume but what you produce that defines and discovers you.  God bless you in your soulful journey to discover who you really are and, thus, to discover God!

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Speaking of rescue boats …

Speaking of rescue boats …

Speaking of rescue boats, they are a good idea.  Staying in the boat is also a good idea.

But staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to pretend it’s the Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean, like so many do.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to joyfully sing songs of praise and honor to the seriously-flawed individual who restored the boat ages ago.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean you have to adore its captain or crew, honoring them with titles, imbuing them with super-human abilities, making them near demi-gods, placing them above the others on the boat in rank and importance.  Staying in the boat doesn’t mean that it’s essential for you to repeatedly affirm that it is the only “true” rescue boat (if that even means anything).

No, staying in the boat doesn’t mean a lot of what the other crazies and extremists in the boat think it means. But, by all means, you need to stay in the boat.   Please don’t jump out.

True faith is centered in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else … not even boats.

To help you endure the boat, please keep in mind, that the boat is just a boat, floating out there in a vast sea.  It’s inherently transitory and fleeting.  It’s a means to an end intended to help you get by with a context for living until the Big Boat (see John 18:36; D&C 65:5-6) comes and you are delivered to the safety of a new reality and new existence.

Remarkably, our own doctrine teaches that the new reality will include people who weren’t on the rescue boat with us:

“Some members of the Church have an erroneous idea that when the millennium comes all of the people are going to be swept off the earth except righteous members of the Church.  That is not so.  There will be millions of people.  Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, [Muslims], people of all classes, and of all beliefs[.]…”

(Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. I, p. 86, Publishers Press, 1954; see also Gospel Principles, Chapter 45, The Millenium .)

“There will be millions of people.  Catholics, Protestants, agnostics, [Muslims], people of all classes, and of all beliefs[.]…”

Unfortunately, the people on the boat forget this and often have a distorted view of themselves and the boat, which makes it difficult to want to stay in.  For example, rather than seeing the boat as a temporary means to an end, they see the boat as the end all, be all.  In reality, however, the Church is not the kingdom of heaven, which is the Big Boat, something much bigger than the Church.   More importantly, the Church is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a difference.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that, among other things, there is more to reality than just the boat!  And praised be God for that! The gospel of Jesus Christ is a state of consciousness, not a set of tenets or beliefs.  It consists of the laws of reality you need to not only survive but to be happy, including during your temporary time on the boat. Focusing on the gospel will help you be happy during your time on the boat.  It will help you be in the boat but not of the boat, as I have written elsewhere. More importantly, it will give you that state of consciousness needed for your entire existence.

The gospel, for example, teaches you that true faith is centered in Jesus Christ and no one or nothing else … not even boats.  (Articles of Faith 4.) That means everything else is ancillary.  Therefore, feel free to doubt everything else because it is nonessential, despite what the extremists and co-passengers in the boat tell you.

When your consciousness is transformed to love them as you ought, you will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat.

Faith in Jesus Christ, in turn, teaches you that your true identity and purpose is love. God is love.  (1 John 4:8.) You are a child of God.  Therefore, love is who you really are. If you really believe that, then you will realize your purpose is to love and to become the embodiment of love. If God is love, then that is what you must become. And if you can learn how to function at this level of consciousness, it will help you both endure and transform your boat community.  Love endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) … even our “peculiar” Church boat!

Being centered at this level of consciousness empowers you with the knowledge that how you behave matters more than what you (or they) believe.  It helps you leave—and when expedient, ignore—that often toxic level of consciousness that faith and faithfulness is the subjective submission to and acceptance of theologies and policies, conformity, or obeisance to authority.  Feel free to doubt and question those externalities all you want (although it’s a waste of time and will get you nowhere).  My advice, however, is to stay focused on who you are and who you are trying to become.

You’ll never find yourself by being by yourself .

Real faith is not conformity or subjective belief. It is trusting that the “true” religion is found in what you do, how you behave, and what you become. In a word, it is orthopraxy, not orthodoxy. (See James 1:27; Matthew 5.) Do you have faith enough to just shrug your shoulders and say “okay … whatever” when those in your boat prattle on about boat hierarchy or boat history that you know to be false?  Is your faith strong enough to recognize that those things really don’t matter and that how you treat your fellow boat members is what it’s really all about?  Is your faith strong enough to rise above?  In some sense, as you contemplate these questions you realize the boat is almost the ideal proving ground for real faith.

You will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat.

Your real journey, though, is to return to yourself. But you’ll never find yourself by being by yourself.  You need the boat and its castaway crew of crazies and conformists, all of whom you’ve been called to love.  When your consciousness is transformed to love them as you ought, you will see the Big Boat on the horizon, hope will return, and you will be able to endure the rest of your journey on the little boat. This is the way:

“20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward[] … and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”

(2 Nephi 31:20-21.)

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

Three of my favorite prayers.

Three of my favorite prayers.

These are three of my all-time favorite prayers, and ones that I oft repeat. I invite you to ponder deeply the message of each. I hope they are as transformative for you as they have been for me!

A prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

A prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr (the AA Serenity Prayer):

God, Give us the grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed, Courage
to change the things which should be changed,
And the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Also stated as follows:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.

A prayer of Byron Katie (if she had a prayer):

God, spare me from the desire
for love, approval, or appreciation.

A Message for Active Members of the Church

A Message for Active Members of the Church

I have a message for a lot of you “active” members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints out there.  It’s going to shock you.  It’s going to disturb you.  You’ll most likely reject it.  But you need to hear it.

Regretfully, before I proceed, I need to give you a disclaimer and proclaim my “orthodoxy” (because I know orthodoxy is important to you and that you’ll definitely want to question it later).  I go to Church.  I have a calling.  I pay my tithing.  I have a temple recommend.  I love the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And “I know the Book of Mormon is true.”  I’ve been an EQ president, served in multiple bishoprics, stake presidencies, high councils, etc., etc., etc., blah, blah, blah.  I was President Hinckley’s lawyer and thought I was a real big deal at one time.  Now that you know that I’m one of “you”—and not some disgruntled inactive or ex—please listen to my message.  But, remember, it’s going to be disturbing (and did I mention that you’ll want to judge me and question my orthodoxy later?).

I’m tired of seeing people leave the Church, take their own lives, or suffer crippling depression because they feel so alone and so isolated …

You see, a lot of you–maybe most of you–are the problem.  You’re the reason so many of our young (and old) people are leaving the Church.  And prophets in the Book of Mormon saw it coming more than a millennia ago.  You should pay attention to this message.  After all, it was written for our day.  It was written for you.  (Mormon 8:35.)  Like Moroni and Mormon of old, “I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord[.]”  (Moroni 7:3.)  So what is this message for the “active” members, those that Mormon and Moroni called “you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ”?

“Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14.)  Isn’t it interesting that those, like you, that think they “are the peaceable followers of Christ,” have an issue with condemning things that are actually good and of God?  Isn’t it interesting that you, like them, need a reminder “that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.”  (Moroni 7:18.)

Read Moroni 7 and then remember that Mormon and Moroni weren’t talking to the “bad” guys.  They were talking to the “good” guys.  They were talking to “us” not “them.”  And they said, multiple times, that we need to learn how to “lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not” (Moroni 7:19, 20, 21, 25) for “if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.” (Moroni 7:19.)  They said we tend to “judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14.)

Mormon is the new Pharisee

What does this mean?  It means that a lot of the things you love, adore and idolize—the chief seats in the Conference Center (Matthew 23:6), the big important titles (Matthew 23:7-8), being seen at the temple (Matthew 23:5), your conspicuous consecration (Matthew 6:1-8)—are all things Jesus detested.

This admonition to the active members of the Church–to be careful not to “judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.”  (Moroni 7:14)–means you’re going to be shocked when you get to heaven only to find Jesus doing the moon walk with MJ, rocking out with Ozzy and Angus, hanging with hippies (and, yes, maybe even hipsters), and goofing off irreverently with little children.  Jesus hangs out with the undesireables (see John 8:1-11, Luke 9:1-10, Mark 2:13-17), the lowly and the unpretentious (Luke 18:16-17, 3 Nephi 17:11-25).  So instead of soft organs and whiteness, it’s going to be loud and colorful, which means you’re probably not going to like it.  You temple workers who admonished me (in Boise, Draper and American Fork) for back-slapping hugs … well, you might want to have a paradigm shift because, as it turns out, you’ve got it all wrong.  People are actually more important than places and piousness.

Moroni saw us active members, and this is what he said: “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.”  (Mormon 8:36.)  Your pride and arrogance, your self-righteousness, your persecution of those who doubt or are different is corrupting the Church.  I’m not saying it.  Mormon and Moroni are.

Mormon and Moroni said you think you know what righteousness looks like but you don’t.  “For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”  (Mormon 8:37.)  You seek the “praise of the world” (Mormon 8:39)—in fact, you love and idolize other members who are famous, and love it any time the media pays attention to one of us.  The rich and famous make the covers of our magazines and get invited to speak at firesides.  People with titles are adored and almost worshiped, which really puts the “cult” in our culture.  Even though “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33), we are stratified and hierarchical.  We place obeisance and orthodoxy above compassion and orthopraxy.  Our culture is killing people, literally and spiritually … it has become the very thing that Mormon and Moroni foresaw and condemned.  We sorely need to repent.

“God so loved the world” and so should you.

Don’t be mad at me.  I understand.  I used to be just like you.  The only thing stiffer than my starched white shirts was my self-righteous, sanctimonious soul.  My obedience, my sycophancy, my sparkling white exterior … they rivaled them all.  I went to the temple every week and, like the Pharisee who prayed thus with himself, I thought that made me righteous.  (Luke 18:9-14.)  I wasn’t “worldly,” like I am now.  But, you see, I had it all wrong.  “For God so loved the world ….” (John 3:16.)  And now so do I.

I’m tired of seeing people leave the Church, take their own lives, or suffer crippling depression because they feel so alone and so isolated by our judgey culture that too often calls good people or good things bad just because they are different, or just because they doubt or believe differently than we do.  I’m afraid that Mormon is the new Pharisee.  I wouldn’t be so fired up about this if it wasn’t so real.  I wouldn’t care enough about this to put my neck out there and write about it if I didn’t love my Church so much, which I do.

The message of Jesus, Moroni and Mormon, and anyone else who “gets it” is that love sanctifies everything it touches.  The evil or good that God really cares about is the meekness and charity that exists within your heart.  (See Moroni 7:39-48.)  This was the message that Mormon and Moroni saw as being imperative for the “active” members of the Church in their day (and ours).  So stop judging, stop condemning (John 3:17), and start loving.  You need a change of consciousness. Relationships are more important than rules, rites and rituals.  (Matthew 5:23-24.)  “God so loved the world” and so should you.