This Is Life Eternal. Right Here. Right Now.

jesus_christ_image_204For this is life eternal, that they know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hath sent.                                                                    ~ John 17:3

It’s hard to remember just exactly when I realized God speaks every language. And not just current languages, but all the lost languages and all the emerging dialects. More importantly, God speaks the language of each proverbial heart. God speaks Melody and Karen and Jill and Sarah and every other named and personal understanding of humankind.

I do remember a few year ago when I had a conversation with one of my neighbors who, like me, is an active Latter-day Saint. He and I were discussing a certain gospel principle. We shared how the spirit had taught us truth. The images used by the spirit to teach my friend involved this friend climbing back up on a horse after falling off. My revelatory images involved a harp, whose strings continued to vibrate even after the sound was no longer audible. God had spoken to each of us, had taught us the same truth, led us to the same conclusion, but through two entirely different spiritual dialects.

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An (Out)Burst

Three Sundays ago in Relief Society we had lesson 1 in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. It was the lesson on Heavenly Father. I had  ended up on the front row with my knitting and my baby. The first discussion in the class included listing the traits of God on the board. I sat there wondering if I had something to add while everyone else put up all the phrases  I was already thinking about: all the omni-stuff, loving, merciful, etc. And then,

“Male.”

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Relief Society Lesson 3: The Plan of Salvation

In our ward we have spent the last month in Sunday School discussing the Plan of Salvation.  For this reason, I think simply going through it from start to finish might not be the most compelling approach.  However, if your ward has many investigators, new converts, or others who are not familiar with the doctrine, it might be better to do that instead.

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In reading through the lesson manual I will admit that no quotes or anecdotes leapt out at me.  This seems to me to be a fairly basic and clear-cut dissection of the Plan of Salvation.  For this reason I think it would be very easy to simply read off a few lines and then jump into a broader discussion about personal experiences or testimonies.

The hardest part of a good lesson plan in my book is coming up with open-ended questions that might spur discussion, so that is what I’m trying to supply here.

 

  

Finding meaning in the Plan of Salvation

What is your favorite part of the Plan of Salvation?

What part of the Plan of Salvation do you wish we had more answers about?

What big questions do you feel the Plan of Salvation answers?

 

Using the Plan of Salvation to share and understand the Gospel

Have you ever had the opportunity to use the Plan of Salvation to share the Gospel with someone?

If you had to explain the pre-earth life/Spirit World/Agency to a friend, how would you do it?

Joseph Fielding Smith refers to earth life as “the great gift of mortality.” In what sense have you felt this to be a gift to you? Have you ever consciously felt grateful to be subject to what he calls “the vicissitudes of mortality?” When/why?

 

Dealing with doubt and uncertainty

Has knowing the Plan of Happiness ever actually made you happy? When/why?

When in your life have you struggled to understand/believe/trust the Plan of Salvation?

How can we distinguish between popular belief within the LDS community and actual doctrine about the Plan of Salvation?

 

Finally I wanted to include two quotes that I found meaningful as I thought about this lesson, which I think could be applied if you decided to discuss these specific principles.

 

On Agency:

(Bear in mind that this is from The Screwtape Letters, so the perspective is from a senior tempter to a junior tempter; it is intentionally diabolical).

“One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.  He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.  We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons . . . [He] wants a world full of beings united to him but still distinct.

“Merely to override a human will . . . would be for Him useless.  He cannot ravish.  He can only woo.  For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.” [C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Harper Collins, 2001) 38-39]

 

On the Atonement:

 

It’s our faith that he experienced everything – absolutely everything.  Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief.  We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family.  But we don’t experience pain in generalities.  We experience it individually.  That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer – how it was for your mother, how it still is for you.  He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election.  He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid.

Let me go further.  There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize.  On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy.  He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy.  He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause.  He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. He knows all that He’s been there.  He’s been lower than all that.  He’s not waiting for us to be perfect.  Perfect people don’t need a Savior.  He came to save his people in their imperfections.  He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes.  He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked.  He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.

(Chieko Okazaki, Lighten Up, Preface, p 174.)

 

My own feeling is that we have a strong tendency to try to cover the whole Plan in one lesson.  It isn’t possible to do such an enormous topic justice with an overview, and as a result the topic can see cliché and tedious.  I think just picking a few aspects of the plan to really go in depth might yield more meaningful participation.  I personally find discussing the moments in life when we confront doubt or fear to be some of the most powerful lessons we have.
While the suggestions I offer here do not pull very much from the manual, I think the tidy organization of this lesson lends itself to easily pulling quotes about specific principles that will not seem out-of-context or need any extra explanation.

 

 

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Birth/Rebirth: From God, Who Is Our Home

“And by the vision splendid is on [her] way attended; at length the [wo]man perceives it die away, and fade into the light of common day.”  William Wordsworth 1770-1850

Five years after the birth of my second child, I was at home preparing for an ultrasound appointment. The local hospital was only a few miles away, so I was in no rush. My children were at school and the day was quite ordinary. Except I remember feeling a kind of sacredness in the simple tasks of showering, doing my hair, applying make up and putting on comfortable clothing – almost like I was getting ready to attend the temple. Perhaps I was in a meditative state of mind. After all, I was nine months pregnant and on this day I would see images of my unborn child for the first time. 

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When Teacher and Text Aren’t on the Same Page

When Teacher and Text Aren’t on the Same Page

I would consider it unethical to advocate spiritual principles that I didn’t believe or hope to be true.  At the same time, I recognize that when I teach at church, I am serving as a representative of the institution.  People do not come to church to hear my personal opinions. It would be inappropriate for me to contradict the text I am supposed to teach.

Stepping down, either by seeking a substitute or by asking for a release from a calling, may be a justified strategy to avoid teaching material that rubs the wrong way, but I have never used this option.  Frankly, I appreciate the opportunity to teach when the subject matter is sketchy because then I can frame the message to be less offensive.

Here are some of the more difficult lesson plans I have taught at church and the strategies I used to balance my personal, feminist ideals and my obligation to represent the institutional church.

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How Should Our Community Handle Wrong Decisions Made By Our Church?

Trigger Warning: Child Abuse and Sexual Abuse.

Everyone who reads or writes for this blog has a connection to Mormonism on some level. For some it is an interest, for others it is their religious practice. And for others it is the cultural background. Some fit all these categories. On some level, we are all part of the Mormon community. So how do we as a community deal with an issue like this one that was in the news this week?

The church is being sued for covering up sexual abuse of children by a church member. This deals with cover-ups on multiple levels. First, local leaders did not protect children in their area from a sexual predator in their ward, even though they knew about his behavior. But this case goes beyond local leaders. In the indictment, the church as an organization is accused of covering up the abuse, of encouraging and in some cases threatening, members to stay silent and not report the abuse. It says

“The Church has not accepted responsibility for what it did and, equally importantly, for what it failed to do, despite being confronted with Micheal Jensen’s [the abuser] abuse on several occasions, the obvious harm caused, and its own protective and enabling hand in the events. Instead, it has continued its cover-up, sending emissaries from Salt Lake City, Utah to Martinsburg, West Virginia, who instructed fact witnesses not to talk with counsel for the Plaintiffs. Through Church leaders, it has tried to intimidate Plaintiffs from pursuing this action, and has directed fellow church members to prevail upon Plaintiffs to abandon their claims lest they run afoul of Church teachings regarding forgiveness. The Church, resultantly, not only made Michael Jensen’s conduct possible in  the first instance, but it also has multiplied the harm to its victims, with its campaign to ostracize them from their faith community and deter them from pursuing justices for their families.”

The most disturbing part of this for me is the accusations against the church. Yes, there are individual members who do terrible things. There are even individual church leaders who make horrible mistakes. There is no excuse for the actions of the individuals involved in this case. But for the church as an institution to decide to cover up the abuse of children is utterly unconscionable. It is an organization deciding to intimidate witnesses, to try to prevent a criminal from being prosecuted. I cannot conceive of a single good reason for this to happen, for the church to make such a choice.

How do we, as a Mormon community deal with this information? How do handle our relationship with the church? My decisions has been to end the relationship. I have sent a letter to have my name removed from the records of the church. My choice is not to be associated with an organization that makes these kind of choices. But that is my decision. How do you deal with this information?

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