25 February 2011

Change of heart

This post is mostly not about recent BYU drama, but it was sparked by thoughts related to it. As I read a post about gay BYU students being "transferred" to UVU, I thought, "Well, if that's true, and BYU is somehow cleansing itself, strapping on a pair, or somehow trying to show integrity in holding students accountable, then I expect to see a cleansing of the football team, too."

Don't get me wrong: I'm sure there are great guys on the football team, and I'd probably be tired of people singling them out if I were one of them, but I've known enough people, over the course of several years, who have reported abundant alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity, not to mention dishonest academic practices, among specifically the football players that I'm pretty confident they can take on the theater department in a contest of transgression. I await the transfers of the football players by popular demand of the righteous masses and indignant administration. You know, for integrity's sake.

Then I thought maybe the conservative football players are extremely penitent every time they intoxicate themselves or penetrate a daughter of God, whereas the theater gays are brashly defiant and stubbornly liberal, and that's where the difference is. Truth be told, I've only heard from one first-person source about the theater department cleansing, so I don't even know the details, and this might all be conjecture, but let's just say it fits church culture perfectly.

And that brings me to my point: the popular LDS notion that it's "what's in his heart" that matters. Even those who seem to recognize a dissonance of sorts and express a sort of sympathetic, "Yeah, I can see where you're coming from," seem more patient with the constantly, repeatedly 'penitent' sinner than with the person who commits the same sins far less frequently but doesn't share the belief in the gravity of the sin, if they even believe it's a sin at all, because one is at least "trying" and "has his heart in the right place."

At least, that's how I used to think, even though I didn't fully realize that's how I thought at the time. The frustrating part is how thoroughly I understand the point of view I'm describing because it was mine. I know not every LDS person shares it, but I know many--maybe even most--do. In a way, it's completely understandable: if what matters is one's 'heart', or one's 'faith' in certain beliefs or deity, and if there's an 'atonement' which washes away sin, then certainly the point when you stop making it effective in your life is the point you have 'given up', and to over-abuse it is better than to waste it or ignore it...or something like that. Besides, without Christ, you are nothing, and we're supposed to forgive until seventy times seven, so...under those assumptions, it just makes sense to be more patient with the constant but penitent sinner...or does it? Not in my book.

"Trying". The word hypocrites bank on. The word which ignores the damage done and runs away from consequences because they have to keep their eye single...until the next time. Seriously, folks, if you're committing the same 'sin' over and over, at some point I think you have to acknowledge that your 'heart' is not, in fact, "in the right place," and that you are no more 'righteous' than any other common sinner who is not acting against their professed beliefs. You HAVE to, if you have a shred of integrity.

I submit that to be happy, you must stop destroying your integrity more and more each time you 'slip up' by pretending you're not going to do it again but not really changing anything, and that this pattern is absolutely, completely no better than the unrepentant sinner who doesn't believe what they're doing is wrong. I submit that to be happier, whether we're talking about 'sin' or 'bad habits' or 'changes you want to make in your life', we each must:
  • A) admit that you don't really believe what you're doing is wrong or harmful to anyone including yourself (and admit that your secrecy is an attempt to save face by living what you want while wearing a facade to deceive others--yes, to deceive, not to avoid drama, not because it's none of their business, but to deceive), and either recognize that the drive to change is not due to a true problem in your life but to external pressures or demands you don't actually believe are right or true for whatever reason (whether or not others seem to think you "should"), or
  • B) stop making excuses and exonerating yourself based on your 'heart', stop pretending you should get some kind of free pass because of your 'intent' no matter how many pandering authorities are letting you off the hook because they need to validate themselves or need something from you or don't want to believe you could be as imperfect as you are, recognize that your integrity depends on bringing your actions and beliefs or goals into alignment, recognize your behavior is harmful and find out why to integrate beliefs and understanding that will actually foster and motivate change, be kind to yourself when you do fall short (as we all do, especially when striving for something beyond "normal" or "average"), and do something (break cycles, ask for help and accountability, whatever is required) to truly avoid repeating the error, if it is one.
I say this to myself as well as to my readers because as I have implemented these perspectives in my life, I've been happier with myself and more at peace with myself and with others. I've been kinder, more patient, more humble, more longsuffering, and more receptive to truth by gradually letting go of the fear of being wrong and what implications that may bring to my life. Aside from clearly not being a paragon of achieved human potential, I'm not perfect at even this idea I'm preaching by any means, but I believe it to be a simple but impacting truth. I still have goals and desires for myself that I want but don't always diligently work towards. In addition to clearly disappointing many people around me in certain ways, I sometimes fall short of my own expectations, as I always have. But increasing levels of honesty with myself have helped me recognize that sometimes, my failure to "change" has been because I'm just not convinced I need to, not yet, not completely, or not at all, and I'm learning to own it.

Sometimes, I haven't realized a need for change until someone explained how my actions or attitudes have affected them personally, which they might not know to do unless I admitted I didn't see a need to change. Since I care about harming others, I've had the opportunity to respond, though is is harder some times than others, or understanding the 'why' has been a challenge, and admitting that rather than sweeping it all under the rug can be difficult because I might look clueless or might have to change. Sometimes, I do want to change and have received a quiet nudge or a slap in the face to wake me up to a need to break patterns and cycles, and I've made another step towards progress until the next "lesson learned". Other times, I recognize that I do want to change, but I admit I have bigger fish to fry, and I have priorities, and they may not be the same as someone else's.

But the point is to improve. To really try. To strive for better today than yesterday in some way. There will be backslides, sidetracks, colossal mistakes, putting things on the back burner, and moments where you feel some things never seem to change. There will also be triumphs, joys, leaps forward, picking up again where you left off, and moments where you read a journal entry from twelve years ago and realize, "Wow, have I really come that far in that regard?"

I just don't buy this "his heart is in the right place" business. Isn't that what "change of heart" is all about? Whether you believe a "change of heart" is a spiritual manifestation of the goodness of God in purifying and aligning your will through the atonement of his son or an otherwise originated epiphany of clarity, resolution, and recognition of your own capability and motivation to live in a way that will be meaningful and leave an impact, I think we all have to, at some point, stop fooling ourselves with comforting masks or accountability-erasing balm because truth--or God, if you prefer--is not gullible. While mercy or ignorance may clean the slate of accountability for each of us, integrity--happiness--demands something internal, something nobody can force upon us, and something no amount of "acting like everything is fine" will ever bring about: a change of heart, and steps to truly align our actions with our beliefs, whether that means admitting our beliefs and priority of values don't match those of others or acknowledging that our actions are not excusable and do need to change to some degree, or both.

Man up, men, and let's all try a little harder to stand and be counted as we are, unafraid, in the light, accountable, courageous, honest about our beliefs and fears and hopes. It's scary, it's hard, it's vulnerable, it's likely to upset someone, and none of us is perfect at it or ever will be...but it's productive, it's ennobling and empowering to ourselves and to others, it fosters truth-finding, it promotes understanding and intimacy in ways secrecy never will, and...OK, actually, I'm just trying to get you all to admit your dirt, so we can have a big ol' gossip fest and point and laugh at the weirdos and scorn the filthy sinners.

Ha, is that what some are afraid of? Probably with good reason. Scary stuff, being exposed by admitting either your beliefs or actions are not what you've let everyone, including yourself, think they are, and letting that be the start of a true, lasting "change of heart" (you can't truly fix something you won't even admit is broken). Is there a limit or balance to how open you should be about such things? Probably...but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say most people could take several steps towards openness, ownership, and integrity (integrating rather than compartmentalizing their lives and actions and beliefs) and would find themselves happier for having done so. Take it or leave it, but don't expect me to shut up about it. :-)


Bravone said...

Excellent post. I know I have been guilty of what you describe. Hopefully I'm making improvements in being more authentic.

When I served as bishop (man that's hard to say) I noticed a pattern of youth and adults that would repeatedly come in and confess the same sins. I tried to teach that confession does not equal repentance, that repentance means a turning away from sin and a genuine desire to align our lives with the Savior's teachings. But who am I to call others out on their faux repentance? After all, I earned straight As in advanced hypocrisy courses.

Ben said...

100% agree.

The Impossible K said...

I think a lot of people fail to understand the true meaning of grace or repentance - that both are totally useless without active personal effort. Grace only comes AFTER we do all we can. Not before.

Though I don't know what it's like in BYU Provo, I'm getting so frustrated at the hypocrisy I see here in ID... Especially when it comes to policing "honor code" violations (everything, including blinking wrong, seems to be a violation here) with an eye single to those who are different (like theater geeks) anyway. We don't have competitive sports, so that's not as much an issue, but it does seem the letter of the law is followed TOO much here, without real consideration of what *should* be true discipleship. Ok, enough ranting. Good post :)

Original Mohomie said...

ImpK, as far as I can tell, in my limited experience with BYU-I, it's actually weirder there than at BYU, which reminds me of a fairly exasperating but amusing topic I've been meaning to post about. Anyway, I hope my post goes beyond the obvious foibles of BYU culture or even Mormon culture and applies beyond the "rights and wrongs" of religious rules and standards to more universal principles.

Incidentally, I think some might take issue with you about what "true" grace is or in what sense it comes after all we can do. For example, there have been times in my life when I have been forgiven either by people or by what I interpreted as God before I'd had any chance to really prove myself, and that "grace" has been the source of motivation I needed to make meaningful changes: it made me want to deserve it and humbled me, and I wanted to step up to that level of trust. I think good relationships include this phenomenon: they have for me, anyway. Of course, one might claim that the grace was effective only because I allowed it to humble me and cause that change...that if I threw it away and proudly expected it again and again while doing my own thing, it would lose its efficacy. That's a religious/theological discussion I'll leave for theologians, though I think there are underlying basic human truths and principles interwoven into that doctrine/theology.

Over the years, I've spoken with a few Christians and LDS people alike who think that scripture or the popular understanding thereof is a misinterpretation, that the language actually means "try as we may, after all we might do, only grace is what truly saves us", which is a pretty different interpretation than that of popular LDS tradition. Just a thought. :-)

blj1224 said...

Actually, my LDS understanding of grace is that, yes, grace only comes after all we can do, but no matter how hard we try, we can't possibly do it all on our own; therefore, our ultimate salvation depends on the grace of God. We do our best, He takes it from there.

OM -- As for your experience with the forgiveness and grace offered by friends and loved ones and what you interpreted as God before you'd had a chance to prove yourself, that, too, is a valid and essential form of grace which we all rely on at times to sustain us and help us grow. The man I love gave me that gift. I always thought of him in terms of a Bette Midler song, "The Wind Beneath My Wings", and I'll be eternally grateful to him for what he did for me when I lacked the ability to find confidence in myself or direction in my life. But, as you suggested, had I not done my part, his support and confidence in me, his love and efforts to pull me up, would have been wasted on someone who didn't deserve, respect, honor, or appreciate it.

Bravone -- We are all hypocrits at times, no matter how hard we try not to be. Consider the positive things you've accomplished, the people you've helped, the family you've made, the good you've done.

Perfection is a life-long process, and at least while we're here we won't be able to achieve it. Forgiving ourselves is as important as seeking the forgiveness of others and of God.

We should always be grateful for our hardships and challenges that help us grow. Roses bloom on thorny stems. I'm grateful for the thorns in my life. They've been among my most necessary, albeit not enjoyable, blessings.

ImK -- I understand the need for standards in church schools, but like you and OM, I wish the spirit rather than the letter of the law could be applied more equitably and with compassion.

Christ provided guidelines for how we should live our lives, but those guidelines included our attitudes toward and treatment of our fellow man. He showed us by example through his compassion, his inclusiveness and acceptance of all God's children, his love of and service to those who were shunned by others . . . examples that seem too often forgotten by some who consider themselves to be his disciples.

Unfortunately, we'll never completely escape hypocrisy, whether in or out of the church, whether within ourselves or others, at work, in our families, among our friends, in our government . . . all we can do is recognize and forgive our own short-comings and do our best to overcome them. Beyond that, we have no control. dang it!!

I'll stop rambling now.

Chris said...

I think that being completely honest with ourselves is a really hard matter. It invites all kinds of difficulties: confronting weaknesses, evaluating motivations, making decisions and changes... Perhaps one reason people are often not more honest about dissonance between their beliefs and their behaviors is that doing so means losing control of a sort of narrative that a person might cling too. Being more honest might mean that he/she feels a loss of control of the (positive, feel good) story that is told in that person's mind. That sense of loss of control probably invites fear in the person, so it is avoided by a variety of techniques - the cycle of false repentance that you describe might be one.

In fact, doesn't the Church/church culture sometimes act similarly as an institution/community of believers? It has a deeply vested interest in maintaining a particular narrative about it's doctrines and its history, even though there are some inconsistencies and embarrasing points in the history and doctrine. But instead of changing the doctrine or admitting a historical problem and moving on, (because of the immovable emphasis on divine relevation/prophets/etc), it gets stuck in defending stuff that it really should just get over. In other words, despite some dissonance between historical or scientific fact (institutional 'behavior') and doctrine (institutional 'belief'), it doesn't really change (repent) as quickly as it might more profitably do.

Anonymous said...

MoHomie, I really appreciate this post.

I read it when you first posted it and have been thinking about it ever since. In fact, I believe it is the necessary catalyst for which I have been searching to make some changes in my own life, i.e., to be more honest, not only in what I do, but with the intentions of why I do something. Thank you for your insightful post. I know I have some ways to change.

I love your take on "grace" and realize that I, too, have been extended grace, not only from Heaven, but from human beings, very quickly and even when I did not deserve it.

One of those who has commented on this very post is one who has so humbly offered his grace to me. I am forever grateful. (You know who you are, Mr. "Basketball" and "lilies otf.")

As you stated, the offering of grace gives one hope to move, to do and to be better.

How is it that someone as young as yourself has such keen insights? However you came to be in ownership of them, I am glad. And, glad that you share with us.

love and respect, always.

Anonymous said...

Thought you might want to read this article- seems BYU WILL kick out its star athletes if the honor code is violated:

Lee said...

Preparing to teach tomorrow's Sunday School lesson, the following paragraph was especially relavent in light of this blog:

True disciples do right things for right reasons. Why did Jesus condemn some people for doing good things such as giving alms (giving to the poor), praying, and fasting? (See Matthew 6:1–2, 5, 16. They were doing these things for the wrong reason.) Jesus referred to these people as hypocrites. What is a hypocrite? (A person who pretends to have certain qualities but does not have them; a person who tries to appear righteous but is not. The Greek word for hypocrite can also be translated “pretender.”

Hopefully you won't mind if I use some of your points in teaching this lesson. Thanks in advance :-)