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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.

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy is the ability to see, understand and love from deep within another’s soul.  In its highest forms, it does more than respond to the needs of another. It anticipates them. It does not ask, “What can I do for you?”  Rather, it knows what to do and acts without asking. And when it acts, it exposes the hand of God because it delivers ill-equipped humans to the threshold of omniscience.  It transforms what would otherwise be well-intended but misguided acts of kindness into miraculous revelations of God’s love that hit the mark so distinctly that the recipient feels loved and known. If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God. Empathy is charity’s compass.

If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at delivering love to others because they lack empathy.  I was reminded of this recently as I was listening to a woman with a paralyzed stomach (gastroparesis), who could not eat, tell me of how hurtful it was to have friends and neighbors in her church community bring her cookies, treats and goodies to cheer her up.  I experienced this, as well, when I was on a feeding tube.  People tend to deliver what they think is love in ways that they, the deliverer, would feel it.  They also tend to deliver love in ways that are convenient and comfortable for themselves.  This is not love.  I consider the adage “it’s the thought that counts” a soothing balm for the thoughtless that has probably done more damage to living the true gospel taught by Jesus than many other convenient aphorisms.  It’s false doctrine.  Don’t believe it.  The minute you find yourself saying that to excuse your misdelivery of love, repent and vow to do better next time.  Vow to show more empathy.

Delivering love is a skill.

Delivering love is a skill.  It doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  But, like any other skill, it can be learned, practiced and mastered.  You must be committed to practicing because delivering love is the ultimate imperative.  “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (Galatians 5:14.)

There is a deeper meaning to the golden rule, which I now call “the platinum rule.”  The proper interpretation of the golden rule is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.”  What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?”  To treat you the way you want to be treated.  Jesus understood and taught this simple truth.  Give people what they want:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

(Matthew 7:9-11.)

If your son asks for bread, don’t give him a rock.  If he needs fish, don’t give him a snake.  It all seems so simple.  But the reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it.  You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need.  You have to understand them.  Love takes empathy.

You cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this.  It teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.  We can do this through thoughtful focus, using our imagination, listening, seeking the Holy Ghost, earnestly striving to experience the pain and suffering of others, learning how to be more perceptive and many other gifts and talents that we can practice and develop.  I call this practicing at-one-ment.  It is way of learning to identify with others.

Jesus Christ’s love for us is so perfect and complete because, in a literal and figurative sense, he “became us.”  (Hebrews 7:26.)  In fact, “in all things it behooved him to be made like unto” us so “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.  For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”  (Hebrews 2:17-18.)

If you want to become a disciple of Jesus you must learn and practice empathy.  I have written an entire chapter about this in my book Built to LoveThere are many excellent resources out there for learning how to develop empathy for others.  I would strongly urge you to seek out these and other resources.  If you lack the ability to properly empathize you cannot deliver love to others as you ought.

Perfection

Perfection

Perfection is not the attainment of some static ideal. It is the ability to behold and belove the beauty of the imperfect. We don’t behold the Corona Arch and think, “If only I could shave off a few tons over here and put it over there …. then it would be perfect.” Likewise, we shouldn’t do that to ourselves. We shouldn’t do that to each other.

Instead, we must learn how to stand with awe and wonder at all of God’s incredible works in progress without taint of ego, judgment or thirst to control. That doesn’t mean we ignore reality and call the imperfect perfect. It means that we gaze upon our weather-beaten and wrinkled faces and look into each others’ world-weary eyes with a deep sense of respect. It means that we listen to the relentless winds of chance and circumstance howl, whistle and wend their way through the cracks and crevices of our deepest insecurities, our most cherished relationships, our most exposed and vulnerable parts, and we ask, “How are we still standing?”

Loving what’s broken, bent, shaved off, cut away, beaten down, worn out, fractured and fragile … that’s what makes us perfect. We are all monuments, worthy of being beheld.

 

A Father’s Day Tribute

A Father’s Day Tribute

Dear Dad,

When I was a kid I didn’t truly appreciate you.  I’ll just say it.  They never told me how hard a man works.  That work slowly kills a man, grinding away at who he was and what he dreamed he’d become, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.  Slowly and almost imperceptibly.  They never told me that men die, on average, ten years sooner than women.  They never told me about prostate cancer.  They never told me about depression and anxiety in men.  They never told me any of this.

“Holy crap!!!” …. “How did Dad do this!!!”

Then  one day I became a man.  And I became a father.  And I said to myself, “Holy crap!!!” (Or something along those lines.)  “How did Dad do this!!!”  The treadmill.  The daily grind.  Doing what you have to do to put food on the table and feed the family.  Trying to earn another pay check when the one you just worked your tail off for disappeared in seconds.  That pressure cooker we call “Being a Man.”  I always knew that you were tough.  But experience is the great revelator, isn’t it?  My eyes were opened.  And you–the one who was my rock, my anchor, my hero, the guy who could do anything–grew even more in stature.

I started to feel bad for all the nights I kept you up, worrying if I’d make it home all right.  I started to appreciate those long drives you made from the other side of the state just to make a ball game of mine.  I felt guilty for the times when you finally made it through a week and yearned for time with your family only to see us kids walk out the door and say, “See ya, Dad!  I’m going to hang out with the guys….”  Now I know why you said to us three knucklehead boys, “Look, I don’t care if you beat each other senseless.  Just take it outside.”  I didn’t understand what it was like to be a man and a father.  I just didn’t get it.

I’m sure I still don’t quite get it.  You see, as I see the trail that you are blazing for me, wisdom has taught me that there’s still a lot I don’t know and that there’s so much that I can learn from you.  That’s what scares me–that I don’t even know what I don’t know!  Yes, I’m still that little boy, in a sense, walking behind you with my little plastic push mower as you mow the lawns of life, wanting to be just like you.   I want to have the patience and courage that you have developed by fighting through a broken neck, a spinal cord injury, kidney failure and cancer.  I want to have the strength and humility that you have earned.  I’m not quite there yet.  In fact, I have a long ways to go.  You’re the genuine article.  I feel like a pretender.

I want to spend more time with you.  But, you see, now I’m caught in that daily grind and there’s days I don’t have the energy  to do anything but come home from work, plop down in the recliner, and turn on the ball game.  But maybe we can grab lunch every now and then.  And maybe we can take in a ball game or two here and there.  And we’ll definitely do some fishing.  Oh, and if the Cubs make it to another World Series, I’ll let you be my psychotherapist to help me through it again.  Thank you for that, Dad.  I couldn’t have done it without you.  Every Cubs fan needs a good psychotherapist.  And every boy deserves a Dad like you.

Happy Fathers Day.