30 March 2012

Packer: First Blood?

Draw enough lines with guns a-blazing, Elder Packer, and some of us who did not exactly think of the church as an "enemy" but are presumably part of what you call enemy territory may lose the patience to quietly endure what sometimes feels to us like enemy territory for similar reasons of moral and ethical disagreement: our church-dominated neighborhoods, active LDS social and work environments, and of course the new church-owned City Creek Center (oh, the delightful dissonance).  I try to live my life, be an example, share what I've learned when requested, and allow each person the same privilege.  Of course, I once similarly saw pervasive, world-ruining satanic influence saturating media and society all around me: the nefarious "world" of which I was diligently not a part.  I once was "spiritually mature" by your measure but have either relapsed into spiritual immaturity or surpassed the spiritual maturity of my teacher (oh, the pride).  Either way, my butt won't be cradled in one of those cushy conference thrones any time soon, so you're the boss, though not mine anymore.

You have consistently declared war, and I hear nobody among your brethren countering or even balancing your rhetoric over the pulpit in a significant way, so what are any of us to assume about our relationship with the church?  I thought we had an amicable parting, irreconcilable differences and divergent paths but with frank civility.  But maybe that was naive of me.  Maybe there's a bitchy sibling-in-law making it very difficult to maintain a peacefully civil relationship with my ex (no, I did not call you bitchy but was merely illustrating a concept, not making a personal accusation; surely you can relate).  Maybe it's not possible to have peace with the church, and you're just the "bad cop" removing the varnish.  Maybe the church doesn't want peace.  Maybe, instead, it needs passionate troops to animate the body of the church in a battle against those of us who have gone AWOL.  We are not with you, so we are against you, spit out as the lukewarm?

When you say "the enemy", you might mean Satan.  I suspect you did not mean that I am personally the enemy of all righteousness even though I believe things you don't and would support someone in something you wouldn't.  But I do think you implied or stated that those of us not heeding your counsel are either pawns or clueless to "the adversary's" power over us, needing either to be vanquished by the sword of truth or saved by the example and influence of the youth whose righteousness you're rallying.  And if I'm hearing that message, surely at least some of your troops are, and since I'm no longer "on the inside" to see the response, it's unsettling to wonder what foments within.  I can accept that when you counsel youth to fight the enemy, you may mean to engage them in an internal purification and fight for their own soul and righteousness, not an outright offensive against anyone who does not conform to your idea of righteousness.  But your rhetoric carries a tone and implications far beyond that.  And your authoritative position exerts disproportionate influence on the attitudes, cognition, and behavior of some youth I personally know and love but you merely abstractly "feel charity for" in an impersonal stewardship.  You must know the power you wield so seemingly brashly, and you must understand that on some level, or at some point, this does become very personal for some of us, and we will feel compelled to raise defenses and respond if necessary.

Push it far enough, and some of us may have no choice but to reluctantly take up arms (figuratively, of course, which I clarify because I know how easily anyone disagreeing with the Church is painted as a militant  and immoral antimormon capable of who-knows-what) to defend ourselves, our beliefs, our liberties, and those we love against the carefully aimed scopes of you and your troops when we had no such desire for war.  But it seems that's what you want, and it's what you know.  Troops.  Battle cries.  Foes.  Enemy lines.  War.  Cleansing.  There's a great sense of mission, of glory, and of camaraderie in war, in the army of Helaman, especially when the whole world is against the underdogs who shall not falter in defending truth and right, who have the architect and manager of the universe on their side.  I know what that was like.  I didn't hate people.  I loved all people.  I just thought most people were deceived by Satan, and I was fighting Satan's influence everywhere I turned, hoping to help those people.  But lines were drawn, and looking back, my actions and attitudes had unintended negative consequences on others and within myself.  Well, you're rid of me from your ranks, but I, too, feel righteous indignation, and you taught me your tactics most of my life, so expect a fight if a fight is what you force.

Nevertheless, I will hold the line a while longer.  I will wait, quell defensiveness, quiet presumptions, remember my own non-nefarious motives in the past, and watch for the actual, rather than speculative, effects of what you're preaching and the tone you're promoting.  It feels to me like you have set it up so that if I did lash back, it would only confirm what you've warned adherents about.  Take a mild person, warn others of their malicious or ferocious nature, then push that person long enough and marginalize him or her enough, and they may eventually confirm the warning.  But that's not the only reason I step back, turn a cheek, and try to keep calm.  I also believe it's the most productive means of engagement and testimony.  And part of why I don't fire back angrily is that I don't believe you're a monster.  I'm not convinced you're a nasty, embittered old wart bent on making everyone else as miserable as some accuse you of being.  I think you're probably well-meaning and believe you are saving souls and sharing what you believe is happiness.

But what you say and, even more, how you say it directly affects me, my relationships, and the happiness of people I care about, so you bet I'm paying attention.  Still, I have hope.  It seems, to me, that the principle of Zion, or unification of "the kingdom" into one mind and one heart, is not a conquering of ideology achieved by warlike means, as has been viciously attempted by world religions for centuries, but an interconnection through building bridges, looking into eyes, looking on the heart, reproving with sharpness on rare, required occasions, then showing increased love through an open ear, arms, and shoulder, and increasing understanding a heart at a time.

I don't know you.  I can't look you in the eyes in person, connect with you, and see behind your rhetoric.  I can hope there is a richness of humanity behind the abrasive exterior, but your rhetoric makes that hope hard to trust sometimes.  Meanwhile, I remember how your words made me feel when I was in your ranks.  I remember how they seemed such clarion calls of righteousness.  I remember how they called me to align myself and coaxed me into subtly combative ways of thinking while rewarding me with a sense of camaraderie and mission in a righteous war.  I remember the simultaneous retreat of parts of me that were not worthy of discussion, not deserving of understanding, not safe to articulate or bring to any light lest they overtake me completely and destroy my soul.  I have since lived something better, the purification of bringing all of me to light, the strength of looking directly into myself without fear, the power of examining and admitting rather than chasing off-stage my doubts, feelings, or urges, the fellowship of a more complete, authentic me among those who are every bit as faithful but apparently less fearfully combative.  I have greater peace, more optimism, and comfort within myself I didn't know I could have.  What's more: temptations and behaviors are actually less on my mind and less engaged than they were before.  Losing the need to fight them let them dwindle into the background.  I have found better than your teachings, a more excellent way.

I don't want a war. I will attempt productive and constructive rather than destructive and combative engagement, but do not mistake me for a pacifist you can bulldoze, and please understand that if others who believe differently than I do about engagement take up arms in a rhetoric war, it was not before a lifetime of dodging or quietly accepting the darts that flew from you or from those who were responding to your words and commands.  A morality war has been raging since long before you or I was born, and you are likely responding not specifically to we who choose and believe as you would not but to a generalized enemy of your morality.  I suppose your blunt words are in response or reaction to perceived spiritual dangers and those who promote them, and your messages are meant to alert and awaken obedience to what you believe to be a stricter, safer path.  But for most of us, in our experience, your rhetoric drew first blood.  I will decry extreme reactions, as I have.  I will not excuse disrespect and willful ignorance, even directed at a perceived aggressor.  But I do understand a great deal of the emotional reaction, and at some point, trying to defend your words begins to feel a bit like defending an abusive parent by insisting they're just trying to express love the best they know how.  It may be true, but the abused party is no less downtrodden, and when it's consistent, it becomes harder to dismiss it as overreaction, the guilt of the wicked, or generally their problem and not yours.  Couldn't you at least acknowledge it could be both?  After all, they don't have this problem with the other apostles.  Are you that much greater a defender of righteousness than them that the wicked senselessly attack you to justify their guilt-ridden consciences?

Knowing what I do about church hierarchy and beliefs about church office and calling, and you as a public persona, I think it completely ineffectual for me to plead that you change your tone.  I also am not a fan of jumping on the anti-Packer bandwagon and jumping down your throat every time I think you misstep.  Believe me, I've held my tongue plenty before today.  But I'm writing this because I wanted to get it off of my chest, and I'm publishing it in case some reader gets some insight from a little raw honesty and because if my patience is wearing thin, I imagine many are way past worn.  And with that, I'll try to let go of what I cannot change while turning to what I can.

19 March 2012

Obedience as the first law of heaven

Ha, cleaning up files today, I found a letter I wrote to a friend who was serving a mission in 2003.  I don't remember all of the context, but apparently I was responding to something he'd written to me.  If I remember right, he sent me e-mails because it was easier than writing hand-written mail, and this was back in the day when missionaries were newly allowed to use e-mail, but only for writing immediate family.  I remember shaking my head and thinking he should be more obedient, but I also smirked and shrugged it off because I figured we were good enough friends that I could let it slide.  It's interesting to read this now, with different perspective, but being able to remember and sympathize with the thoughts of 9-years-ago me.  Without further ado, please enjoy this sermon on obedience from the pre-heathen O-Mo.

I do not say there are no exceptions.  Just look at the examples of the shewbread and the apparent exceptions Christ made.  The Mosaic Law had been added to by mounds of man-made rules and regulations, void of the inspiration of God.  And even the Mosaic law was fulfilled in Christ.  There was a reason for change.  Jehovah, himself, was here to command men and guide them.  He can change things up whenever he wants to.  We can't.  Look where that got the Pharisees.  So I guess the question is where your mission rules come from.  Did they come from God, or were they the uninspired creations of a frustrated mission president?  I guess they could be either.  But I do know one thing: if you obey, you will be blessed, and so will the people you teach, EVEN IF IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE, OR YOU CAN'T SEE HOW IT WORKS, simply because of your attitude of humility towards the Lord and desire to serve His people His way.  That's something way too many missionaries never get through their thick skulls.  They think the way that makes most sense to them must be the right way. 

If you obey, with the right reasons (submission to God and his inspired leaders, desire to provide an example for those you teach), your obedience will not be destructive.  There may be times when other missionaries trying to villainize you for being strict WILL be destructive, but that's not your fault.  Exceptions will come.  You will know them.  They will be obvious.  The Spirit will guide you if you go into those situations with an attitude of obedience and love for the Savior and the people you teach.  Nephi didn't decide, on his own, that if it were someday necessary, he would kill a man.  He was committed not to.  But in an hour of need, the Spirit prompted him, SEVERAL TIMES, that an exception must be made.

Christ was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father.  He had _fulfilled_ (was not 'disobedient to') the Mosaic Law—and I would recommend your ZL not use the word ‘disobedient’ in conjunction with Christ again; it sounds like subtle craftiness J.  With his arrival and atonement, the Spirit played a larger role—it gave life to the commandments.  Most of Christianity would have us believe we have no more commandments.  They see the 'law' as merely a way of showing us how imperfect we are and how incapable of meeting its demands.  There is truth in that, but we are still expected to strive, and sometimes the only way of knowing whether we are willing to submit in all things is to obey a seemingly stupid rule.  If you have a concern regarding a rule, talk to your mission president.  I got so sick of hearing elders say they 'didn't want to bother the president with stupid questions.'  For most missionaries, that was a copout, in my opinion.  It takes less than a minute to ask him about a rule and get a quick reply.  If he tells you certain rules are flexible and that he trusts you more than other missionaries to make the right choices, so be it!  If he tells you the rules are inflexible, then so be it.

Human love is flawed.  Human love is jealous.  Human love is clouded by limited vision.  Human love wants everything rosy, even at the expense of learning and building of character.  Human love is frequently motivated by guilt or selfishness (looking good to others or needing affection).  The love of Christ is, to me, very different from human love.  It is perfect, unconditional, serving, and wants the best for its recipient, even at the expense of their affection or praise.  Charity, the pure love of Christ, comes from a testimony of Christ and familiarity with the way God deals with His children.  That’s what I meant when I said charity fosters obedience: we love our Heavenly Father and our Savior and want to do things his way because his love is perfect, and we care enough about those around us to do what he asks. 

OK, I'm REALLY long-winded.  I'll try to wrap up.  There are rules, yes, that can make some things less convenient.  I say get over it and adjust the work to fit the guidelines you've been given rather than trying to adjust the guidelines to how you think the work should be done.  If you honestly feel the Spirit--that is, the Lord himself--is telling you to do it a certain way, and the rules conflict with it, then what more can I say?  But unless you receive revelation or spiritual confirmation regarding your own situation, then a disregard for any rule is an UNINSPIRED disobedience, no matter how logical it may seem. 

There is danger in trying to be 100% obedient so you can be ZL, or so you can prove something to yourself, or so you can be praised of men.  There is also danger in disregarding 100% obedience because some people do it for the wrong reasons.  For me, I believe in obeying a rule, and showing the Lord my willingness to do it, and following the guidance of the Spirit should an exception arrive(though not determining beforehand what constitutes an exception).  I loved the people.  I tried for 100% obedience (in fact, I was famous for it...or infamous).  My love didn't always show the way people expected.  I do wish I had made my love for the people more obvious.  I could have softened up on my strictness some.  But I know I loved the people, and I know I did my best to be obedient, to serve them the Lord's way and as well as I knew how.  I don't know where missionaries get the idea that loving the people and obeying the rules are contradictory.  We're commanded to do both, and the Lord provides a way for all his commandments.

Is there Celestial glory in store for all who love?  Is there Celestial glory in store for all who are obedient?  I would submit the answer to both questions is 'no.'  Does that mean I should love halfway or obey halfway as a compromise?  Not at all.  We can and need to strive for both.  It's a package deal that can really only come with the Atonement of Christ.  When he says, 'Be ye therefore perfect,' I think that means to strive for perfection in every way, and allow him to make up the huge gap that will still be left.  He was the only perfect man to walk this earth.  He said to follow him and do the will of his father.  Paul tells us that without charity, the PURE love of Christ, simply going through the motions is useless.

My advice: strive.  Prove to your Heavenly Father that you're willing to do even that which doesn't completely make sense to you and which is hard.  Love the people with the pure love of Christ.  Let it show.  I think if you honestly strive, you’ll find an acceptable balance.