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Author: Dan McDonald

“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee.” Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren

“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee.” Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren

“Mormon” is the new “Pharisee” … a collective consciousness that tends to love the church more than people. Don’t believe me? Just ask the Brethren.

What are we to infer about ourselves when modern prophets urge us to leave our immature religious practices (which were probably really cultural practices) and conduct ourselves in a higher and “holier” way centered on the commandment to love?  (See President Russell M. Nelson, “Minstering” (April 2018); Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be With and Strengthen Them” (April 2018).)

When God’s prophets say one thing, the people of the church are almost certainly doing the opposite.

When modern prophets say “we should mature personally” that probably means that what we’ve immaturely passed off as our “religion” is not really true religion at all. (Id.) When modern prophets say we need to “ris[e] above any mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry” it probably means that our idea of religion has been too mechanical and more focused on the functions of the church rather than any deep spiritual connection with God and others, that we have strayed from true Christianity. (Id.)

When modern prophets say “we want more care and concern” that probably means we’re not really good at genuinely caring about others.  (Id.) When modern prophets explain that changes in the church are motivated by a desire to be “more gospel-based” that probably means that what we’ve been doing in the past is more culturally-based—that what we’ve passed off as the “gospel” isn’t really the gospel at all! (Id.)

How can I be so bold? There’s one thing you can be sure of.  When God’s prophets say one thing, the people of the church are almost certainly doing the opposite. As God told the prophet Isaiah long ago—and, yes, he was referring to us, too—“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 – NIV.) Why do you think Isaiah saturates the Book of Mormon? He’s talking about “us” not “them!”

Isaiah by (Jean-Louis-) Ernest Meissonier
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Isaiah pointed out that we have transformed religion into something that is largely cultural and not grounded in any deep spiritual connection with God. It is based upon human social constructs that have lead us astray.

In other words, with our rock star prophets we think that talking about their talks is actually walking the walk!  It’s always been that way with us.

Observing a different aspect of the same general phenomenon, the prophet Ezekiel elaborated on the cognitive dissonance that has always characterized cultural Israel and that so aptly describes the predominant “Mormon” culture and Mormon Consciousness in the church today. God told Ezekiel that prophets, by definition, are ones who are “followed” largely in hearing and adored by a people who confer rock star-like status upon their beloved cultural icons and then behave like stubbornly selfish asses:

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

(Ezekiel 33:30-33 – NIV.)

In other words, with our rock star prophets we think that talking about their talks is actually walking the walk!  It’s always been that way with us!

Ezekiel by Michelangelo

Indeed, for most of our history, both ancient and modern, we Israelites have struggled to transcend a cultural consciousness that really amounts to no more than ritualistic tribalism, a collective consciousness grounded in a shared story, shared traditions, shared icons, and shared rituals that, as a culturally-perceived whole, more closely resembles patriotism than any deep and abiding spirituality grounded in love and internal transformation. Our people are prone to confuse the means with the ends (Mark 2:27), conflate the message and the messengers, look beyond the mark (Jacob 4:14) and see loyalty to cultural ideals and icons (like Joseph Smith) as being synonymous with righteousness and genuine spirituality. (See John 9:28-30.)

What Jesus said of the Pharisees could be rightly said of us:

“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life…. but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

(John 5:39-42 – NIV.) We, like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, think scripture study, temple attendance and church attendance IS righteousness when Jesus so very clearly taught an alternative consciousness. (See Matthew 25:35-37; James 1:27.)

The Good Samaritan by Pelegrin Clavé y Roqué

But just when the predominant consciousness believes (in their dualistic, binary, us-against-the-world way) that through scripture study, prayer, fasting, and temple attendance “all is well” in the familiar and comfortable cultural church they have created for themselves, (2 Nephi 28:21), God sends an annoyer and disturber like Jesus to disrupt the status quo and challenge the predominant consciousness.

In our day, it seems that none other than President Russell M. Nelson and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are playing this role, telling us, among other things, that it’s time for a “better way” … to be more “mature” and live the “true, pure, and simple gospel of Jesus Christ,” (President M. Russell Ballard, “The True, Pure, and Simple Gospel of Jesus Christ” (April 2019)) which is grounded and centered in loving kindness. They are urging us to see loving kindness and compassion as our purpose. ( Elder Quentin L. Cook, “Great Love for Our Father’s Children” (April 2019) (“Love of the Savior and love of our fellow men and women is the primary attribute and motive for ministering and the spiritual purposes we were charged to undertake by our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, in the adjustments announced in 2018.”).)

The Mormon Consciousness is so immaturely focused on the church instead of the gospel we continue to be like the toddler who plays with the box and packaging instead of the gift inside of it!

They are saying we need to put away our immature traditions and get on with real gospel living. Not only is President Nelson urging us to jettison the name “Mormon” he is also slimming down the church infrastructure, loosening its reigns, and urging us to adopt a more mature consciousness grounded and centered in love, not structure and method. As my wife has wisely pointed out to me, the name change, alone, is bigger than you think. It represents an emerging shift in the predominant consciousness of the church designed to disrupt the predominant Mormon Consciousness.

Despite these recent efforts, the predominant subculture—what I have called the “Mormon” culture or the “Mormon Consciousness”—remains as defensive and intransigent as ever.  The outside-in, structure-based Mormon Consciousness is so entrenched, in fact, our leaders “worry that the spiritual purposes of these adjustments might become lost in the excitement about the changes themselves.” The Mormon Consciousness is so immaturely focused on the church instead of the gospel we continue to be like the toddler who plays with the box and packaging instead of the gift inside of it!

What you have experienced in the church is not necessarily the Lord’s way but its cultural counterfeit.

But the emerging subculture is changing the established order. This emerging subculture within the church is what I would call the “Christian” culture or the “Christian Consciousness,” and this subculture is putting ever-increasing pressure on the Mormon Consciousness. If you consider a “church” to be a collectivity of consciousnesses then you could say we have several churches within the church. We now have “Mormons” and “Christians” within the same church!

I see President Nelson leading the push towards the emerging Christian Consciousness. While, candidly, I remain skeptical about whether the Mormons within the church can rise above the patriotic-tribalism that has always plagued its culture (dating back to even before our perennial Pharisee phase), I think the leadership of President Nelson should give hope to many who struggle to thrive within the predominant Mormon Consciousness. What are the implications of these changes?

For one, you can take comfort knowing that what you have experienced in the church is not necessarily the Lord’s way but its cultural counterfeit.  You are not alone, nor are your misgivings and concerns about the Pharisaical Mormon Consciousness a figment of your imagination.

It means you should have courage to speak up, using the words of the prophets and apostles to influence discussions in Sunday school, Relief Society and priesthood meetings, which are prone to be driven by the predominant Mormon Consciousness that President Nelson and his cohorts are trying to alter. It means you should have courage to try thinking and acting in new ways that are not grounded in tradition. Be unconventional. Be nontraditional.

Have courage to reject the traditions of your fathers (Helaman 15:7), which, by the way, include a very unhealthy Lamanitesque persecution complex. (Compare Mosiah 10:12). Bear your testimony differently. Don’t just ape the standard homage to the church being “true” (whatever that means) and your adoration of Joseph Smith. Keep it centered and grounded on the true gospel, as President Ballard has urged.

Have courage to interpret the scriptures differently than the traditional Mormon Consciousness does. When the Mormon Consciousness in your neighborhood or ward engages in leader worship, which is a Pharisee-prone acute departure from our love-centered purpose (Matthew 23:6-12) have courage to point it out. It pollutes the environment.  We don’t need to inhale that air.

Pray differently—don’t give the showy Mormon prayer/talk that feels compelled to adulation of all the traditional sacred Mormon relics and icons. Keep your prayers short, simple and love-focused (Matthew 23:14). Let go of the belief that rituals and rules work like magic spells that make you righteous just for observing them. (Luke 18:10-14.) Rule keeping is not righteousness. (Matthew 19:16-22.)

To love as we have been encouraged to love means we need to open up our closed systems, our closed theologies, our closed minds. Line-drawing like “member” and “nonmember” “active” and “inactive” has to stop.

We need to let go of piousness and our acute focus on rote routines and rituals. You can’t embrace another when your arms are folded and your head is bowed.

Since the Mormon Consciousness is the predominant cultural consciousness in the church right now—especially in certain parts of Utah—it is very difficult for those embracing the Christian Consciousness to survive. The Mormon Consciousness and Christian Consciousness tend to see things so differently that going to church can be full of triggers and very painful for the latter. And, because they are so much like their Pharisee forbears, the Mormon Consciousness is not above actively persecuting those who see and think differently than they do in the name of defending what they perceive to be doctrine, protecting the church or expressing their distorted perception of love. (See John 10:31-33; Luke 4:29.)

Because of this, I know many very good people who are leaving the church because they feel that there is no room for them or their ideas. But please don’t give up!  Things are changing. We need you. We need your voice! We need you to stay strong, stay in, and be part of the change. Love is worth fighting for.

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

He healed on the Sabbath

He healed on the Sabbath

Today’s guest blogger is my 14-year-old daughter, Sophie. Her name literally means “wisdom.” I think she is aptly named.

As I was thinking of what I would include in my talk I thought about what Jesus did on the sabbath day. I was looking at scriptures when I came across Luke 13: 10-17. It says,

“10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. 15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16 And ought not this woman being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? 17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.”

God isn’t giving us strict confining rules, and do’s and don’ts but instead showing us and giving us guidelines on how to find happiness and peace.

 I love that story; it reminds us that no matter the day any act of kindness and service can be done. As I have been reading my scriptures I realize that God isn’t giving us strict confining rules, and do’s and don’ts but instead showing us and giving us guidelines on how to find happiness and peace.

He constantly was helping people, comforting many, healing the sick, casting out devils, and much more. The sabbath day is a day to remember and act on Jesus’s example. It is a day where we can find peace and comfort, by, serving, loving, accepting, and understanding those around us.

“Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”

St. Francis of Assisi

For example, there was a day that I noticed a girl that was struggling. After church I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies for her. When I delivered them, I saw the joy light up on her face. I immediately felt happy and closer to my Heavenly Father.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your act of kindness is. Simple things like cleaning dishes, writing a note, and listening to someone will bring you closer to your Heavenly Father and you will feel peace and happiness.

St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” By acting on God’s example, we will find our Identity and purpose, and our faith will grow as well as our hearts and spirits. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Loving God Means Loving Yourself

Loving God Means Loving Yourself

“For behold, he said: Thou art angry, O Lord, with this people, because they will not understand thy mercies which thou hast bestowed upon them because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:16.)

And then, not so suddenly, it dawned on me that salvation is not about changing how God feels about me. It’s about changing how I feel about God and myself, which are synonymous. It’s discovering that loving God means loving myself.

Jesus claimed complete identity with God.  (John 10:30-39; John 14:7-11.)  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” said Jesus. (John 14:9.)  He claimed that he and God were one and the same. (John 17:21-22.)

Can you imagine how your family, friends and neighbors would react if you made a similar claim? This is precisely why Jesus was labeled “demon-possessed and raving mad.” (John 10:20.) 

Remarkably, Jesus saw you as an extension of himself. Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.”  (John 15:5.) His great intercessory prayer was that we “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”  (John 17:20.)  His greatest desire was “that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me.” (John 17:22-23.) The greatest yearning of Jesus is that you might stop seeing yourself as separated from him!

Jesus tries to communicate his oneness and solidarity with you through the ordinances. Hence, at baptism you were immersed in him, the living water. (John 7:37-39.) You eat his flesh and drink his blood each week, literally, chemically and biophysically having him become part of you.  (John 6:53-56.)  You are called by his name—again, merging your identity with his. (Mosiah 5:7-9; see also Alma 5:14; Alma 46:15; D&C 20:77, 79.)

Jesus also does this through his teachings. He tells you that whatever you do to others you do to him (and that whatever others do to you, they do to him).  (Matthew 25:40, 45; Mosiah 2:17.) In countless scriptures which, for whatever reason, we tend to bury and never discuss, you are reminded that God can possess and dwell in your body. (John 6:56; Acts 7:48; 1 Corinthian 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:14; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17-19; 1 John 4:12-13; Alma 34:34-36; D&C 130:22.)  How many ways can Christ say that he is with us … that he is part of us!!!

You are part of the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things.

As you move towards full acceptance of this reality, you discover you are part of the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. Your very spiritual DNA is the same as his, the light of Christ, which “proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space.” It is “the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” (D&C 88:12–13; see also D&C 88:6-11; Moroni 7:16, 18.).  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5; Ephesians 5:14.)  You are an extension of this light and love, just like Jesus said. You, too, are the light of the world! (Matthew 5:14.)

This same force of light and love was enfleshed at the birth of Jesus.  (John 1:1-14.)  It was enfleshed at your birth, too. You were formed from the same mold!  (Genesis 1:27.)

Being awakened to your inherent light, feeling beloved, feeling worthy, feeling good enough, feeling hope, feeling adequate … that is atonement.  That is salvation.  Atonement is awakening to the knowledge that nothing can separate you from the love of God.  (Romans 8:31-39.)  It’s not about changing God’s mind about you.  It’s about changing your mind about God. It’s about remembering who you are and accepting the reality that you are good enough for God.

Unfortunately, much of religion has become so toxic, beating in to you the idea that you’re never quite good enough, that you’re never fully worthy, that you can always do better. No wonder we have an epidemic of anxiety, depression and suicide on our hands! What kind of parent would send such toxic messaging to her or his child? If you are stinging from the venom of shame and inadequacy can the antidote be found by casting your gaze in a different direction … by choosing to see things differently … by believing in a different message … by seeing the message or Messenger differently? It can’t be that easy … can it?

When the Israelites were bitten by “fiery flying serpents … he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.”  (1 Nephi 17:41.)  All they had to do was look to the brazen serpent—a type of Christ (John 3:14-15)—but they wouldn’t look because they thought that was just too easy.  (Alma 33:19-20.) Surely the God they thought they knew wouldn’t make it so easy!  The God they knew made things much more difficult.  The God they thought they knew made everything complicated and expected more from them. Ironically, it was their toxic ideas about God that killed them, not the venom.

Likewise, your toxic ideas about God—not the inevitable venom of life or the toxicities you have absorbed—is what ultimately kills you!

So I ask, will you believe that by seeing things a different way you can be healed of your insecurities, your anger, your wounds, your toxicities, your hurts, the venomous ideas and toxic beliefs you have held inside of you?  I ask, “if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief[?]” (Alma 33:21.)

Can you see that if Jesus is who he said he was, then you are who Jesus says you are? (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34.)  You are one and the same, different aspects of the same reality! Branch to vine. Light inside of Light. You are the beloved son!  You are the beloved daughter!  You are good enough. When God said, “This is my beloved son [or daughter], hear him [or her]” he was talking about you! He was asking you to listen to your inner light … the Christ buried in the womb of your innermost self.

The discovery of your own true identity is synonymous with the discovery of God. This will come to you as the still, small voice of assurance from deep inside that trusting yourself is trusting God. That loving yourself is loving God. I love how John Philip Newell described it: “Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. In Christ, we hear not foreign sounds but the deepest intimations of the human and the divine intertwined.” 

As a father, my greatest heartache is seeing my children suffer needlessly because they simply aren’t aware of how wonderful, worthy, capable, and loved they really are. The greatest gift they could give me is to confidently love themselves. Our identities … our hearts … they are so intertwined that when they wound themselves, it wounds me deeply. When they are bruised, I am bruised. When they are broken, I am broken. But there is no greater hurt than when they can’t love themselves. Don’t you think your Heavenly Father feels the same way about you? Now can you see that loving God means loving yourself?

Deny not the gifts of God! (Moroni 10:8.) If the atonement is a gift, you shouldn’t have to earn it. In fact, you can’t and won’t. (See 2 Nephi 2:4 ; 2 Nephi 25:23; 2 Nephi 26:27 ; Mosiah 2:20-21) Believe that “ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ[.]” (Moroni 10:33.) Then live your days not to earn God’s love but to reveal it; not to merit God’s love but to share it. Show people who you really are and you’ll show them who God really is. If “come follow me” means anything, it should mean that.

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

Imagine There’s No Heaven … And You Might Just Find It

Imagine There’s No Heaven … And You Might Just Find It

So many of us walk away from church on Sunday feeling heavier instead of lighter.  So many of us leave with troubled hearts, filled with the heavy burden of not measuring up, feeling that we will never be good enough or that we should always do better. But this can’t be what Jesus intended for his church. Jesus said he came to give us peace, not to take it away.  (John 14:27.)  Jesus came to help us feel unburdened and light, not heavy.  (Matthew 11:28-30.)

Does church leave you feeling inadequate?

If this is how you feel a lot of the time, read on.  I think I may have something helpful for you.

I want you to imagine with me for just a minute.  I know you most often think of the commandments and teachings of Jesus as things you must do or follow to make it to some yonder, future heaven.  But I want you to suspend that way of thinking for just a moment.

Assume with me that you’re wrong about that.  In fact, if it’s helpful, assume that there is no afterlife or heaven, no “reward” at the end of the race.  Instead, assume for a moment that this life is all there is and the commandments are instructions about how to find peace and happiness in mortality … how you can achieve a little heaven on earth right here and now.

If you were to go back and re-read the scriptures from this perspective how would that change things for you?

For example, Matthew 5:44—”bless them that curse you”—would no longer be part of your entrance fee to heaven.  You wouldn’t have to feel shame, guilt or unworthy of God every time you “break” this commandment.  You wouldn’t have to feel like a failure just because you can’t live up to this seemingly impossible standard. Instead, you might just discover that this “commandment” of Jesus is actually a very practical and helpful way of letting go of anger and finding peace so that you can be happy right here and now.

The commandments and teachings of Jesus are not requirements for admission to God’s presence but are helpful tools for living happily.

For example, I have found that keeping the commandments brings immediate blessings, like the peace I feel when I have held my tongue, been the bigger person, or done something kind to someone who wronged me.  (Mosiah 2:24; Alma 34:31-32.) I have also found that breaking them brings natural consequences such as addiction, fear, anger, anxiety, conflict, etc.  These are the punishments and consequences spoken of in the scriptures. But I no longer worry about pleasing or angering God or losing credit towards my entrance fee to heaven when I die. 

I primarily see the commandments and teachings of Jesus not as requirements for admission to heaven but as helpful tools for living happily. If you want to find peace and happiness, try living the way Jesus said we should live.  If you don’t … don’t. 

Eating everything on the buffet will make you feel worse, not better.

But please don’t tell me I’m going to hell or that God is angry at me because I can’t eat every jot and tittle of food from the generous buffet of guidance, help and instruction Jesus so lovingly laid out for me in the scriptures.  I’m not eating that bread. (Matthew 16:6, 11-12.) Jesus was trying to feed my soul, not suffocate it.

God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him. 

Moreover, that’s just not how God is. The first thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is his “goodness.”  (1 Nephi 1:1.)  Nephi testified that God is full of “power, and goodness, and mercy.”  (1 Nephi 1:14.)  His promise was to “show … you … the tender mercies of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:20.) The last thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is that he is gracious.  (See Moroni 10:32-33.) God is not some narcissist who wants to be worshiped and who gets offended any time we don’t do things exactly his way.  He’s not obsessed with obedience.  He doesn’t have a dominant-submissive obsession. He’s not an inflexible rule-obsessed Pharisee.  It’s very simple.  God is love.  (1 John 4:7-21.)

God loves you just the way you are!

God loves you just the way you are, and nothing can or will ever change that. (Romans 8:31-39.)  I choose to believe what King Benjamin said—it’s not about being good enough, it’s never been about being good enough, and it never will be about earning or deserving anything … the sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be.  (Mosiah 2:20-21; Mosiah 4:11-12.)

In contrast, some hold the dismal view that the purpose of mortality is “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25.)  That’s just silly.  First, God already knows everything—there’s nothing for him to find out.  (D&C 38:1–2.) Second, of course we’re not going to keep every commandment—otherwise, the atonement wouldn’t have been prepared from the foundation of the world.  (Mosiah 4:6.) Simply put, this view seems doctrinally unsound and very unpersuasive.  Thank goodness we don’t believe in sola scriptura.  (See Book of Mormon, Title Page (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men”).)

God is not a rule-obsessed Pharisee.

No, it’s not about keeping all the rules or changing so that you’re good enough for God. We’ll all be redeemed. God wants us all back. (Mormon 9:13.)

God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him.  (Alma 41:10-11.) Ironically, if you live as if there is no heaven you might just find a little bit of it right here, right now. And if you’re fortunate enough to create a little heaven on earth, that’s the way you’ll spend eternity. (Mormon 9:14.)

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