02 February 2008

Can You Stay In Middle Ground?

*** Published on 27 Oct 2010 ***
*** This and other posts were not published when written, partially because I wasn't sure if I was articulating what I wanted to get across and largely because I didn't feel comfortable expressing doubt or conflict beyond a certain degree. I think the statute of limitations on that concern has run out. ***

On Young Stranger's blog, he posted a thoughtful essay on living in the "middle ground". As indicated by my blog posts, some of these ideas have been on my mind a lot lately.

I've never really felt "angry" at the church in the way many do. In fact, what bitterness I have felt has been directed not even at the doctrines but at the members and their complacency, venomous or ignorant as it may be. I've thought about that whole idea of going to church without being in full fellowship, and I suppose I could do that. It has taken some adjustment to shift from being the "go-to" man in my wards to the unknown face in the back, but I've refused to let ego have heavy bearing on my decisions.

I just can't, yet, imagine having a burning testimony of the "restored gospel" and NOT sacrificing my dissident beliefs and practices, even if church policies were to later change, because isn't it worth it if it's true? Isn't making excruciating sacrifices a remarkably purifying process? It has felt that way for me in the past, when I've been sure of my reason for sacrificing, even if I wasn't sure what I was being asked to sacrifice was entirely reasonable (e.g. a few select mission rules). I usually later discovered it was worth it. And sometimes I just shrugged and said, "not sure if it did any good, but at least I know my motivations are pure".

I realize sacrificing the company of your beloved companion is a far greater issue than not listening to my favorite singer's music for two years, though. But then, didn't Joseph Smith say we would all be tested as Abraham was? How much am I willing to lay on the altar? How much will I refuse and withhold when the Lord's servants ask it of me? Or does it matter, if I don't feel the Lord, himself, has asked it of me? And then, Abraham's hand was stayed, yet mine surely would not be when letting go of a beloved companion. ...or could it be? How can I know until I am willing to give it up?

Maybe it's the jump between knowing that the Lord's servants are asking me to give up companionship in this life (or find it in another form with a woman), and the confidence that the Lord, himself, is truly asking it of me. Maybe this is dependent on my understanding and belief of what a prophet really is and how "inspired" his words are?

It's hard, when I read conference talks and Doctrine and Covenants passages, to believe the gospel leaves room for ignorance of "certain" commandments just because I felt miserable or depressed when I was following them. This is not perfectionism. It is a large network of principles laid out in scripture about least degree of allowance and prophets never leading us astray and sacrificing all things (not just the moderately hard stuff) for building the kingdom. It only makes sense to me if I look at it and say, "I may have been obeying, but my heart was in a different place and not in-line how it needed to be, so of course I was depressed because my eye wasn't quite single, even if my behavior was compliant. Maybe this time will be different." Don't we do that with every other aspect of life? "I'll try again, because a lot has changed, and maybe this time will be different."

We certainly seem willing to do so in relationships with other people when our hearts and groins are aflame. Or maybe, "Yes, I am depressed. Yes, I feel a void. Yes, I hate surveying the dreariness of the rest of my life facing the probability that I never again will know the tender embrace of a romantic partner. But 10 years down the line, or 20, when my heart has had time to heal and strengthen and find peace in the Lord, when I have learned to develop a network of intimate friendships and love of the Lord, when I am finally accustomed to the purifying fire and the incredible strength that has come from faithful (not blind) obedience and painful sacrifice, THEN I will realize that my happiness is deeper and more abiding than any human relationship can provide." Maybe. But I'd probably have to have more confidence and "faith" than I currently have to be ready to say that again.

I mean, when I hear people say they believe the gospel but simply can't fully comply with church standards and practice and believe that to be justified on the grounds that they need to be true to "themselves", I see a potential for impure motives under the guise of nobility: self-gratification masked by selfless love of partner, need-fulfillment stubbornly exercised my way and not the church's masked by "the Lord knows I'm different", refusal to sacrifice masked by the proclaimed haziness of doctrine being interpreted according to cultural construct. Yet, I understand, to some extent, the philosophy, or at least the desire for the "middle ground".

I understand the middle ground on a temporary level, but there has to be some awareness that if not today, then one day, another step will be required, whatever that step may be. I cannot pick one aspect of my life and, unyielding, insist that it is my exemption card. But I can maybe say, "I realize the church leaders have counseled me to leave this, and I will keep that in mind, but for now, until the Lord himself touches my heart with that counsel, I have other things to work on. I have other things to do. And maybe, someday, when I am ready, I'll give that counsel another try and give it a chance to bless my life." Not in a token way. Not by way of dismissal or indefinite procrastination. But by way of humble acceptance that perhaps my ways are not the Lord's, and that he will show me how to integrate this counsel into my life when I am ready to take another step to demonstrate my willingness to humbly lay all things on the altar of his love.

...if you believe in God and you believe that's how he works. But maybe, when I read the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets, and I expound on them as I have here, I'm unwittingly doing my own fair amount of interpretation, too. Maybe I don't understand.

No comments: