Thursday, October 9, 2014

Perfection Redefined

Perfection!  Nobody has it, nor will ever come close enough to touch it.  Right?

So much of disappointment in the human condition can be attributed to the expectation of perfection.  All of us say it: "I'm not perfect-- my life, my job, my family, is not perfect, but... ". To our credit, we're trying to look on the bright side.

We all understand that life isn't perfect, don't we?  Understand it, but somehow still expect to attain it, and subconsciously abuse ourselves over the fact that we aren't making it happen.  "Once I make more money, find the perfect relationship, get in shape, renovate my house, get a new car, achieve my professional goals, start a family, finish EVERYthing I set out to do, my life will be perfect.  Even though there's no such thing as a perfect life."  It's a natural inclination; as children of God, with his spark of divinity within us, we were born for a circumstance greater than this world can provide-- we were made for eventual perfection, and so our spiritual wiring keeps on demanding it, however elusive it may be.

But say you do manage the near-impossible goal of putting everything in your life exactly as you imagine it in its perfect condition.  What happens next?  Imagine yourself, standing there in your perfect yard with your perfect spouse and perfect children and perfect dog and perfect neighbors, anticipating the next day at your perfect job with perfect pay and perfect holidays and perfect birthdays and perfect dinners and perfect nights' sleep and days and years of perfect health and perfect appearance and perfectly absent opposition.  What now?  I contend that you would be afraid to move a muscle, because no single element in this equation remains unchanged, ever.  Life is moving parts, most of them moving independent of your control.  Even that which IS in your control is under the control of an imperfect person!  There is no such thing as a perfect life-- at least, not the way the world defines 'perfection.'

We might assume, then, that life is inevitably and perpetually disappointing.  The inherent nature of the soul seeks perfection, in a world where perfection is mockingly, brazenly impossible.  Every conscious acceptance of this imperfection is quickly followed by an unconscious return to feeling after it.  And surely this is a fact to which we must give our reluctant deference-- repeated yearning, repeated surrender.  Right?


Only if you see perfection as a permanent, unmoving destination.  How could it be, in a fluid, biological world cogged into a ticking timeline?  There IS perfection here.  It's not yours.  It's not anyone's.  It's an organism of the moment, feeding every individual as need and natural law dictates.

Perfection is in a symbiotic relationship with its opposite, its nemesis, that bit of darkness that makes it shine all the more beautiful just as stars shine brighter in a darker sky-- IMperfection. Things break.  They crumble, corrupt, crack, fall apart.  We stumble and sometimes come crashing down in spectacularly dramatic fashion.  We lose things, precious things that tear at us as they rip from our grasp.

And then something sweeps in, great or small, and makes things right-- not always permanently right, but an in-the-moment, exquisite, beyond reason and often unearned return to rightness.  A wound heals, a break repairs, a stumble becomes a dance, a collapse becomes an opportunity to rise stronger, a hurt receives relief, our hands become filled with more than what separated itself from us.

And that is perfect.

Terrestrial, of-this-existence perfection is not to have everything right, but to have the right things in the right moments.  It is not to be free of suffering, but to have access to relief; not to be without illness, but to have a warm place to lay your head and a full belly in times of infirmity; not to have a perfect relationship, but to have an imperfect person in whom you find perfect companionship-- someone who makes you smile when you sorrow and whose company dispels your loneliness.

Perfection in this world is not the absence of misery, but the daily deliverance from it, even in the very second in which it occurs.  Perfection is the sigh of acceptance when a stranger smiles at you, or the opening of your soul when you smile at a stranger.  None of us is a perfect person, nor does any one of us have a perfect situation, no matter how grandiose or full it may appear from the outside.  But every one of us has experiences when a flawed moment is overcome by a perfect relief, and everyone is capable of providing such reliefs to someone else-- whether massive or seemingly inconsequential.

With this in mind, consider the words "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).  The word 'perfect' in this context is grammatically associated with 'complete, finished, fully developed' (see footnotes in the LDS-published KJV Bible). Jesus Christ was still living a mortal life when he made this declaration.  Now consider his verbiage after his resurrection: "Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (3 Nephi 12:48).  After his resurrection, he included himself in the statement.

Under these parameters, he referred to physical and eternal perfection that takes place through the resurrecting process.  His Father is a perfected being, a vessel which can literally bear and produce perfection of itself.  We are not-- we can place ourselves in its proximity and dwell in its presence, but we cannot 'BE' perfect the way the Father and his Son are-- not in our current world, not without becoming resurrected beings ourselves.  God did not command us to 'be a person who does everything perfectly and never makes mistakes!'  He commanded us to be somebody capable of receiving eternal life one day.  "Be finished, like I am."

Perfection in the earthly realm is a fluid, reparative entity, that which corrects and heals as it goes.  Christ's entreaty to 'be perfect' means "seek to become an exalted, resurrected being in which light can dwell, through which light can flow, from which light can be produced.  Do that which ye have seen me do, so someday you can become that which ye have seen me become." Today, we can only observe the perfection around us, externally, and put ourselves in its path.  Hereafter, we can become creatures in which perfection can dwell and expand.

So how do we prepare for this later transformation in the here and now?  Follow the instructions.  There are natural laws governing all things.  There are absolutes.  Our adherence to absolutes, our respect for the laws that govern this existence, determine the level of perfection which we draw into our daily lives.  Don't believe me?  Consider anyone who has tried to defy the law of gravity.  Commandments are instructions on how to obey natural laws.  Defy them and you fall to imperfections and miseries that were entirely avoidable.  Obey them and you place yourself within reach of the grace of Jesus Christ.  You draw into your life the daily perfections that make life a joy to live.

Perfection is correction-- circumstances correcting themselves, whether immediately or eventually.  Recognize those moments.  Savor them.  Count them and collect them, write them down, remember how gracious God has been with his perfection.  And be patient in tribulation; your steadfast obedience to His laws will-- absolutely WILL-- result in a correction, a perfection, of every last wrong in your being, whether here or hereafter.  Until that day, enjoy the perfect bowl of soup, the perfect sunset, the perfect friendship (with an imperfect friend!) and "press forward, with steadfast faith" in the perfected self to come.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Friend and Your Friend

A good man returned to God this week.  He was my friend.  We were not related, we had little daily interaction, and yet I call him my friend, above that of general acquaintance or collective pleasantry.  I think many people in my church congregation feel the same way-- he was not a friend to all of us; he was a friend to each of us.  Why would we feel this way about an elderly gentleman with whom many of us had limited association?

With his passing, I have pondered that question.  I know we all feel his loss quite personally.  I can't speak for everyone, but something dawned on me this morning that helped me understand what Brother Richard Blackmer meant to me-- why he was my friend, and what that means.    

In spite of myself, I have managed to adhere to the basic tenants of my religion throughout life.  My faith in Jesus Christ and his plan of happiness has grown in me steadily, slowly, forming deep roots under the safety of greater trees, and after reaching a certain height, hardening in the winds of tribulation.  I don't credit myself for it; I mean to say that I was rarely afraid, because I was not alone.  God stayed with me.

But amidst this, I have sustained only weak confidence that God is perpetually aware of me.  I know he loves all his children, but my mind is too small to grasp how, in this infinite universe, he can know and love each of his children in a personal way.  How is that even possible?  I realize this is nothing more than a mental block in my puny brain, and it runs contrary to all the evidence in my life that God has indeed been there for me.  I understand that my eyes will be opened hereafter and the concept will be shamefully obvious.  But there are billions of us, just here on earth today.  How?

As I reflected on Brother Blackmer this morning, I realized what it is about him that made his friendship so personal.  When he approached any one of us to shake our hand, when he smiled and complimented and asked about each member of our family, when he channeled all the divine light inside himself into that single moment with one single person, it was as if no one else was in the room, as if no one else mattered as much as you did, right there and then.  His was not a collective friendship.  He was my friend, and he was your friend.  He was a mortal man, only able to connect with one other mortal at a time.  Yet he reached as far as he could to be a brother to every individual he could. 

'Where Are the Nine?" by Liz Lemon Swindle (detail)
Our Heavenly Father is not inhibited by mortal limitations.  "All is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men" (Alma 40:8).  The Lord can be present at any place on our earthly timeline, in as many places as he chooses, without end.  He can do what Brother Blackmer accomplished only in microcosm; he can put his arms around every individual, whenever he is needed, at the moment he is needed.  He has 'time' enough, and to spare.

So often as parents we find ourselves fighting between practical work and personal time with the kids; God has no such burden.  He has made his purpose in the universe not to raise up a human population, but to raise up each child.  He is able with one hand to wield his mighty power to form worlds and expand the universe, and with the other to hold his child's hand.  He has all the time in the world.  He has time for me, and he has time for you.

I love my friend, Brother Blackmer.  He showed me how it's done, how God does it-- not how our Father loves us, but how our Father loves me.  I thank him for being the example that would help me understand.  I have no doubt that he will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever. 

"Of all the titles of respect and honor and admiration that are given to Deity, he has asked us to address him as Father." --Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

 "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Find Them

My husband recently had the opportunity to aid an aging friend of our family.  This man is an angel among men.  His body is not his friend anymore.  It makes continuous efforts to put him in the grave, but up until this writing, he has bravely and nobly thwarted every attempt.  There are more challenges than the physical when it comes to infirmity, however, and he has been made to depend on others in personal ways that we all hope never to require.  Members of my family have been his willing servants once or twice.  I fear he may not understand what that means to us.  This post is dedicated to our noble friend.

My father passed away a few years ago, but before he did, he suffered-- body, mind, and soul.  He had Parkinson's disease, dementia, and debilitating bladder and prostate issues.  He cycled through anger, terror, amnesia, paranoia, and shame. He smiled and joked whenever he could, which was not as often as he wished.

  In his younger years, Dad was practically busting apart with good humor.  He whistled songs every day, some of them songs to which he'd drummed in a 1950s big band.  One of my fondest memories was hearing him whistle throughout the house, around the yard, wherever he was and whatever he was doing.  Because of him, I whistle too, everywhere.  He suffered much sorrow throughout his young life, but he never lost hope or his sense of humor.

And then he fell apart, slowly.  He was in my care for a couple of those last years.  They were hard years.  He was embarrassed.  His face hung in sadness as I cleaned up his space around him.  He wanted to be capable.  He was angry that he was not.  His own father had suffered in like fashion, and his mother had been heavy-burdened with Grandpa's care until his passing.  Dad never wanted to go out that way.  But here he was, going out just that way, depending at various times on his daughters to help him with matters that would humble the humblest.  And he handled it with a brain that was gradually disintegrating, blurring his understanding.

I have two people now in my daily life who require my constant care.  My teenage daughter and 5-year-old son are autistic.  The former can talk and manage some things herself; the latter is not quite as capable.  I have managed many personal tasks for them both.  One day while combing my daughter's hair, she began silently weeping.  I sensed her disappointment.  "You don't want me to have to help you, do you?"  She shook her head.  "You wish you could do these things by yourself."  She nodded, and then she did something she rarely does.  She hugged me for longer than five seconds, and she cried quietly.

Every morning, a member of our family dresses my autistic son.  We feed him, wash him, brush his teeth, and carry him in and out of the house to let him loose on his second-favorite toy, the trampoline (his favorite is the iPad.)  We help him in and out of his bunk bed, which he sleeps on so he doesn't get up at night and find trouble.  We check his mouth regularly for objects that are not chew-approved, we clip his nails, follow him around as he leads us by the hand to his requests.  We talk for him, because we understand his signals and habits.  We play with him and tickle him and make all the silly noises that make him smile.  We guard him from himself.  He understands this, and he seeks our protection.  There is every reason to believe that we will be performing these duties for him for the rest of his life. 

I have learned a thing or two through these experiences.  And here is where I make a public declaration to our dear, aging friend from the beginning of my story.  The burdens we help you bear in any small way are not burdens at all.  I implore you, my brother, in the acutest possible way, feel no shame.  The opportunity we are afforded to stand at your shoulder and bear you up under the crushing weight of tribulation is life's most enduring honor. It's an honor we could never be granted without your willingness to be served.  Feel no shame! Knowing you makes us stand a little taller, but serving you makes us giants.

Here is my message to any of you reading this now. There are people in this world who cannot do it without you, who can give you nothing in return for your assistance, whose needs will tax your resolve and bend your will under their weight.  There are people whose difficulties will crack your preconceived notions and plant your face on the ground in pleading prayers.  There are duties so grinding and menial and thankless that no one wants to do them or have them done for them-- so many people who can't, very literally cannot, help themselves.  FIND THEM.

We are not here for them.  They are here for us, to make us better!  Find even one of them.  Put yourself in their space.  Do without being asked.  Provide dignity to these of God's dignitaries in disguise.  You are not too good.  You are not good enough!  And yet here they are, allowing you to serve them.  If you do not take the opportunity to know them, the door to boundless depth of character and spiritual refinement remains closed to you and the children you raise for the future.  Do you want to be like Christ?  Do something.  He will open your eyes, and you will lament the years you wasted not seeing the angels before you.  They're all here, hiding beneath robes of need.  Find them. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The 'End' of Man: Education and the Individual, Pt. 2

As discussed in part one, C.S. Lewis has determined that the authors of a particular elementary English book have, consciously or unconsciously, laced the text with a sort of relativism that neither parents nor students may be able to detect in time to untangle.  He sees this textbook as a single example of a problem becoming pervasive even back in the 1940s-- the problem of raising 'Men without Chests,' a generation of students that revere intellectualism but lack heart. 

"Gaius and Titius," he says, are people who hold to their own intellectual, 'in vogue' system of values with "complete uncritical dogmatism." Intellectualism is their religion, so to speak.  "Their skepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.  And the phenomenon is very usual.  A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional ... values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.  They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that 'real' or 'basic' values may emerge."

Throughout the many works of C.S. Lewis, there is a clear thread of anti-progressivism, as defined in his generation.  He saw the progressives of his day as morally-relative deniers of spirituality, people whose sole motive was to go forward, with no destination except 'more forward-going.'  Consider the example of the man and the waterfall again.  "To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as 'necessary' or 'progressive' or 'efficient'" would force the authors to answer the questions, "Necessary for what?  Progressing towards what?  Effecting what?" ...  "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive" (as stated in Mere Christianity).

So how does all of this forward-going, value-eschewing intellectualism really end up affecting society, beginning at the earliest stages of education?  The question can't be answered without looking into the eyes of the genuine, all-encompassing value system these textbook scholars so slyly attempted to refute.

"The Innovator attacks traditional values in defense of what he at first supposes to be 'rational' or 'biological' values.  But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking [traditional values], and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from [traditional values.]  If he really had started from scratch ... no jugglery could have advanced him an inch... Only by [it] is he enabled even to attack it."  There are things of absolute, irrefutable venerability.  There are things that are absolutely contemptible, for which no explanation is necessary.  As such, the only way to attempt to refute them is to borrow some thread from them.  There is no way to create something new apart from them-- they are the fabric of life, and every thread is a part of their weave.

This melds well into another recurring theme in Lewis' work-- that Satan, common enemy of every man, has no power or authority to create anything, and creation is surely the gift he must envy above all others.  He can only take the creations of God in his hands and corrupt them to a purpose that in turn corrupts mankind. Every human vice is but the product of a corrupted virtue.  How clever a deceit, then, that the devil can manage to convince God's children that anything he has ever produced is new, novel, or has value above that which God has already given it.  How clever to convince us that God had no hand in it at all, and that we are responsible to equalize its imagined venerability and improve upon it-- 'progress' it to something, though we know not what.

The final few pages of The Abolition of Man are a dire warning against the application of moral relativity in the classroom.  "Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted, and indeed... we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.  But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and irresistable scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

"Even more important ... In the older systems, both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him, were prescribed by [traditional values]-- a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.  They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen.  They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike.  It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly.  This will be changed.  Values are now mere natural phenomena ...The conditioners have been emancipated from all that... They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce.  They themselves are outside, above.

"They are not bad men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao (traditional values), they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts [man-made, a spurious experimental result].  Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man."

This series of lectures, I remind you, took place in 1943.  This year marks its 70th anniversary.  Do you see the fruition of any part of his predictions?  Are they really any new revelation, or has he only re-illustrated a societal pattern that has existed since the beginning of time?

I believe this discussion deserves a third part-- inclusion of examples in the scriptures, a spiritual discussion about this 'end of man.'  New post to come. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

The 'End' of Man: Education and the Individual, Pt. 1

C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man is a book Lewis presented as a three-part lecture at King's College, Newcastle, in 1943.  He had been gifted an elementary school textbook by its authors.  He was disturbed enough by the slant of the material that he determined to write a rebuttal-- yes, a rebuttal to an elementary school textbook.  In 1943.  So what did he see that too many didn't, so early in the history of progressive education?

The title says a lot.  Abolish means 'to end the observance or effect of,' 'to close down, nullify, make void, bring to an end.'  Lewis believed that the textbook he'd received foreshadowed the future of society.  It detailed the education of 'man made void.'  In order to protect the textbook's presumably well-intentioned authors, he provided them with the pseudonyms 'Gaius and Titius.'
Lewis relates a portion of the book about a waterfall and a tourist who considers it 'sublime.'  Gaius and Titius reject this opinion.  "What he was saying," they tell us, "was really I have feelings associated in my mind about the word 'sublime', or shortly, I have sublime feelings ... This confusion is continually present in language as we use it.  We appear to be saying something very important about something; and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings."

What was C.S. Lewis' problem with this statement that would cause him to write a book about it?  In a textbook meant to teach the English language to elementary-age students, the authors taught (in a manner so coy that one might miss it in a blink) that nothing is truly venerable or truly contemptible.  All is a matter of opinion, perception, or emotion. A waterfall has no value of itself, except the value we give it with our opinion of it.

"If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement of one's feelings ... It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings; in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible."  And thus, nothing is truly contemptible, except the feelings we have toward it.  Meanwhile, "The schoolboy who reads this passage ... will believe two propositions: firstly, that all [such statements are] about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant...

"The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy; a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake.  It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.  The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him."  A boy doing his English prep begins the slow infusion process into moral relativity.

Lewis does not entirely concede that the authors do this unconsciously.  He later considers the possibility that 'the trousered ape and the urban blockhead may be precisely the kind of man they really wish to produce... They may be intending to make a clean sweep of traditional values and start with a new set. ... But I doubt whether [they] have really planned to propagate their philosophy.  I think they have slipped into it [because] literary criticism is quite difficult, and what they actually do is much easier.'  He presumes the purveyors of such an education may be trousered apes or urban blockheads themselves, so to speak.

"They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda-- they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental-- and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of young people against emotion.  My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale.  For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity.  The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.  The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.  By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.  For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

How much that single paragraph says about our current state of education!  It conjures images of classrooms filled with individuals forbidden from physical contact, the volumes of naturally-occurring thoughts and subject matters that form in a child's brain which he is forbidden to speak; standardized materials which he is mandated to read, and the mandated thoughts he should think about them; essays given failing grades because the opinion expressed is not aligned to the instructor's opinion; even police arriving to interrogate a child who engaged in a game of 'cops and robbers' on the playground.  This is not the learning environment God intended for his children.  Quite the opposite-- it's the environment fantasized about by the common enemy of all mankind. 

Lewis continues, "The difference between the old and the new education will be an important one.  Where the old initiated, the new merely 'conditions'.  The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds-- making them thus or thus for purposes of which birds know nothing.  In a word, the old was a kind of propogation--men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda. ...

"The operation of [this textbook] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.  It is an outrage that they should be commonly spoken of as Intellectuals.  This gives them the chance to say that he who attacks them attacks Intelligence.  It is not so...

"It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out.  Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.

"All the time-- such is the tragi-comedy of our situation-- we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible.  You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'.  In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function.  We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful... The practical result of [such] education ... must be the destruction of the society which accepts it."

So begins 'The Abolition of Man'-- the end of the moral individual. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"And He Looked Up and Laughed..." : Rage in the Heart

"Sudden feeling of extreme and growing anger, resulting in tunnel vision, hyperventilation, muffled hearing, increased heart rate, extremities shaking with adrenaline, loss of capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and the dulling of the pain sensation.  Hostile, affective, reactive aggression.  Acting on impulses, usually violently, to the point that one may attack until he himself has been incapacitated or the source of his rage has been destroyed."

Rage is an ugly, ugly thing.  It's also very easy to find these days.  A hundred examples are as good as one.  Rage in this world crests and falls like a flooding torrent.  Little minds contend for power and pit brother against brother in the court houses, legislatures, churches, and streets, as well as in the figurative town squares of media and technology.   There is, without a doubt, right and wrong; there is a sacred responsibility to stand for the good and against evil.  But there's also a natural reactive instinct inside every heart that ends the argument, and "the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice" (3 Nep. 9:3).  That instinct is rage.
Rage is reasonless, loveless, and without peaceful resolution.  It doesn't matter in the end whether your rage was for or against the greater good.  Rage destroys whatever you were trying to save.  It is king of every fatal error.  It devours strength, dissolves good will, acidifies pleasantry, darkens vision, warps perspective, corrodes the best of intentions, and ultimately banishes holiness from your earthly being.  That heart-vessel meant to bear glory is made a bile-bearing slave to the adversary. "Satan had great dominion among men, and raged in their hearts; and from thenceforth came wars and bloodshed; and a man’s hand was against his own brother, in administering death, because of secret works, seeking for power" (Moses 6:15).

Few of us see ourselves as creatures of rage.  We like to believe we're always on the side of righteous indignation-- that our blood only boils against that which is legitimately unjust.  But there's a fine line between turning over the money changers' tables in the temple, and grinding the face of our fellow men because of reactionary anger.  Jesus Christ can easily tell the difference, but we too often fall prey to the cunning of his unscrupulous opponent.  When we are offended, we want to rebuke.  When we are oppressed, battered, scorned by others for our beliefs, we are inclined to take revenge, return evil for evil.  We feel justified.  Before mankind, maybe we are.  But we do not answer to mankind.  In the end, nobody does.

Why does the devil laugh?  Because these matters in which the children of God are so utterly mired, season after season, are so very small-minded and carnal and 'now.'  "A proud man is always looking down on things and people," said C.S. Lewis. "And, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you."  The devil laughs because his enemies become so entrenched in the petty things of the moment that they fail to lift their eyes and look to God.  They forget why they're here.  They forget to love the Lord.  They forget to love one another.  They 'neglect the relevant questions' in favor of what is progressive and reactionary.  The devil laughs because, in a fit of 'righteous indignation,' they're losing themselves.  They're filling with anger, and they are failing.

So how does one stand for the right and manage to stay out of the mire?  The answer is in the question: stand for the right.  Remember that we are standing for something, not merely against something else.  Never depart from the sure footing of the rock of our Redeemer, certainly not to swipe at a perceived enemy.  All mankind share one common enemy.  It is he that tempts you to react instead of make clear, calculated, inspired decisions.  It is he that instructs you to wield your hurt instead of lead with your faith.

The sure way to thwart him is to develop laser-like focus on what you do believe.  When times get bleaker, turn your light up brighter.  When the crowd gets louder, keep your conversation positive, wise, edifying, and firmly rooted in the truth.  When others are attacking people, defend principles with a heart steeped in compassion for your brothers and sisters.  Stay close to the Lord, so when good people are being shamed and emptied of their courage by supporters of evil, you have a full cistern of the pure love of Christ to replenish them.  

And "love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.  And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also... 

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise...Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.  Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.  Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" (Luke, chapter 6)

 There is no higher ground, no better distance from the muddy mire of rage, than praying for love toward your enemies.  What seems like the hardest thing to ask is actually the key to overcoming the temptation to react with rage.  No enemy, however formidable, can hope to compete with an opponent who refuses to reciprocate hate, but replies to offense with ruthless kindness and compassion.  In so doing, you safeguard your own heart, and may also win back the heart of another that Satan had thought to secure for himself.  There is no greater revenge against the Common Enemy than refusing to take revenge on each other.  Forgive.  Love.  Lift.  This is the work of the Lord. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Technology: The Tower and The Ark

The Tower of Babel
I recently heard an individual compare the technological advances in communication to the Biblical Tower of Babel.  His idea was that the exponentially-expanding tech 'tower' upon which so much of civilization depends may someday be shorted out, either by warfare or natural disaster, and the sudden shattering of that immense network would result in a modern 'confounding of languages' (humanity would be shell-shocked, their communication options obliterated, their former habits and training obsolete.)  It's a comparison that lends itself to spiritual and moral issues as well as societal.

The Tower and The Mountain

There are additional gospel examples of prideful tower-building.  In the Book of Mormon, we read of the 'tower' which the arrogant Zoramites erected in their synagogue and named 'Rameumptom' (holy stand).  Once a week, one by one, each would ascend the holy stand and pray to God, saying, in addition to many blasphemies, "thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell" (Alma, Chapter 31).  They would then depart to their homes and not speak of God again until the following week.  For this, Alma and his brethren were "astonished beyond measure" and "grieved" because the hearts of the people were set upon riches and the oft-accompanying vanity and elitism.

Mount Sinai
 So often in history, vain ambitions caused towers to be built, from ancient pyramids to modern skyscrapers, either to foolishly reach God only in physical proximity, or to vaunt oneself above fellow beings, even to the level of self-deification.  In the meantime, the Lord most often called his prophets to the high places he himself had created for spiritual communication, likely a mountaintop  in a place of solitude, where none could behold the sacred exchange, and where man was made to remove his shoes in humility.  God declared to Isaiah that in the Last Days, "the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it" (Old Testament, Isaiah, Chapter 2).

How might we equate this 'tower and mountain' idea to a technological Tower of Babel?  One visit to the internet will answer that question.  The examples of vanity, lasciviousness,  materialism, and ego-centrism are as infinite as they are varied.  Never in human history has self-worship been so accessible.  Most of the indulgences of ancient Rome are available to all, instantly, inexpensively; those that cannot be indulged in virtual reality can be delivered to the door of any location around the world as swiftly as overnight.

Carnal instincts that may have remained dormant in a past social climate are easily fed, satiated, grown into voracious habits, from the privacy of a single screen.  Hours, years, lives can disappear without human interdependence, without gentleness, without the far-reaching, life-affirming effects of shared lovingkindness.  One can pass through this test called mortality having done nothing, meant nothing, having rotted body and soul in utter solitude.  Or worse, one can develop a destructive monstrosity that becomes the horror of those around him-- all before exiting his own front door.

And this because "the natural man is an enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:18).  The natural man seeks a tower upon which to vaunt himself above his neighbors and his maker.  This is the tower, without foundation, that must inevitably crumble, leaving its groveling minions disoriented, devastated, without knowledge of true things, confused in language and intellect, and as embalmed spiritually as the bodies of pharaohs past. Technology can be just such a tower.  But technology can also be something else.

The Ark

Noah built his ark as a rescue vehicle for 'endangered species' and heeding humans.  Its construction was considered all but impossible by the standards of his day and with the resources available to this one man.  He was mercilessly mocked for undertaking such a feat, and for his otherworldly motivations in doing so.

Nephi Rebukes his Brothers
The prophet Nephi, of the Book of Mormon, faced similar opposition, albeit from the rebellious arm of his own family.  He had been commanded of God to build the vessel that would bring his parents, brothers, certain friends, and all their families across the ocean to a promised land.

We can reasonably assume he had never built a ship before.  The building method was described as 'curious workmanship' after the manner of the Lord and not of men.  "I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men"  (1 Nephi, 18).  Additionally, Nephi "did go into the mount oft, [for God had called him to a high mountain to receive revelation] and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things" (1 Nep. 18).

Nephi's two older brothers scorned him, only to find themselves rebuked by the power of God and commanded to assist in the build.   When the work was finished, "my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord" (1 Nep. 18). The people of Lehi now had a sure transport to a better place.

The Jaredite barges are possibly the most dramatic example of divinely-inspired shipbuilding.  The barge's dish-like shape, absence of windows, small size, hatches on both the top and bottom, and lack of navigational parts must have been a terrifying sight to those who would travel across the deep within those wooden bellies. But while the blueprint was unusual, it was no less inspired of God.  It would require a great deal of faith to enter, seal the door, and be cast off into the waters.

Yet the Lord comforted the Jaredites.  "For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth" (Ether, Chapter 2).  God would be in control, and he was.  The Jaredites, too, arrived safely in their promised land.

You Decide

Technology can be a tower built by the weak arm of the flesh.  It can also be a faith-driven vehicle to a better place.  It can carry our understanding of truth at light speed.  It can bullet us through troubled waters on the power of the Father's breath, moving purposefully toward the promise of enlightenment and personal prosperity.  Rather than isolate us, it can help us to link arms with like-minded brothers and sisters, help us plant our own inspirations for other truth-seekers to harvest, and help us touch hearts in the furthest reaches of civilization. Rather than encourage us to consume and destroy, it can put the tools of creation in our hands as never before possible.  It can significantly shorten the learning curve on countless skills and blast a path through the stumblingblocks that may otherwise have hindered us for years.

Technology is a 'great and terrible' miracle.  Like the God-guided compass Lehi called the Liahona, in the right hands, it can take you exactly where you need to be.  But in faithless hands, it can spin out of control, disorient you from any reliable course, and cause you to find yourself sinking into the deep with the compass still in your white-knuckled grasp.  And it's not the Liahona that determines the outcome, but the intention of the hand that holds it.

Technology must be regarded with care and respect.  Each click of the mouse or swipe of the finger must be done consciously.  We must turn our backs on the crippled tower and purposefully enter the ark of the Lord. From the safety of that holy vessel, the journey is one of everlasting increase and astonishing beauty.