Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Paradigm Shift

We all view the world through the lenses of our values and beliefs. Some of our values and beliefs may be well established while others may be in a more infant stage of development. These values and beliefs are developed over time by our personal experiences as well as the knowledge imparted to us through sources we trust. These sources may include individual personal relationships developed in the family, as well as influences from school, work, community or church. Over time these values become entrenched in us so much that many of our subconscious decisions dictate the course of our lives. If our values are based on truth, we’re in great shape, but if they are based on bigotry, falsehoods or half-truths our lenses will be blurred and our vision will be inaccurate. If our lenses are based on truth they will be clear and the paradigm through which we view the world will be accurate.

The problem is, few of us ever think we’re wrong. We may admit to the occasional error, but it’s unlikely we would admit to a faulty worldview. For example, if I thought my conservative political viewpoints were incorrect, I wouldn’t be a conservative. I would consciously search out a different philosophy around which I would structure my belief system. But based on my personal experience and the knowledge imparted to me by the people and institutions I trust, I find myself generally satisfied with the conservative political philosophy so I am not willing to discard it, although I may be willing to accept failures within my paradigm. Despite my confidence in my worldview it is important to refresh my vision or clear the lenses as I challenge my core values. As I challenge my own views, those which are based in truth will be strengthened and my confidence will increase, while those that cannot hold up to scrutiny will be discarded and replaced with a more complete truth.

It has always been interesting to me how good, intelligent people can disagree about the most basic things I would consider to be fact. Do tax cuts stimulate the economy? In my mind the answer is a no-brainer. Of course they do. My knowledge and experience tells me they do, while the knowledge and experience of others tell them that tax cuts are selfish and not helpful in stimulating the economy. Am I that much smarter than others? Yes, I am. OK, just kidding- kind of. But I listen to Republicans and Democrats discuss political issues and it often seems that they’re arguing for the sake of arguing. Undoubtedly this is true in many cases, but I think it is highly possible that both sides truly believe what they are saying. The paradigm through which they are viewing the world is vastly different from each other.

It is also interesting to me to view or hear the sentiments of our older generations when it comes to race relations. Sometimes I will hear a comment or a word, or see an action, which to me seems inappropriate or bigoted. The individual who uttered the statement thinks nothing of it. Perhaps it’s a phrase or word they used as a child when such things were common and considered politically correct. Have we ever seen or heard such things from grandparents or great grandparents? Are they bad people? No. They would argue vehemently that there is no racism in their heart and I believe them. But the experiences of growing up in a different time, when the cultural norms and correctness were different, may color the lenses through which they view the world.

Sometimes, as members of the church, we think of our doctrine and think, “of course, it makes perfect sense. How could anyone refute this belief.” Or “how could a person claim we are not Christian when our church bears His name”. To our thinking based on the spiritual paradigm we have developed over time, it is difficult to comprehend that a good, honest person could view something 180 degrees differently than we do. Because of our difficulty in understanding this, we may incorrectly assign a motive for the actions of others, which is wrong. Limits in our own worldview make it difficult to understand others and vice versa.

At work or at church I am often challenged to solve problems in operational procedures or staff concerns. I do the best I can to formulate a solution I think will work and when I reach my conclusion I feel satisfied with the answer to my problem. I have found that when I rely solely on my own view, and devise my own plan without the various views and experience of others, my answer, although good, may not be as great as it could have been. By basing my answers solely on my own experiences and knowledge, I eliminate the possibility for something better and remain a prisoner of my own pattern of thinking, my own paradigm.

When Proposition 8 in California passed and protesters targeted the Church, I remember feeling defensive and upset. I viewed the protests as damaging to the reputation of the church and myself personally as a member of the church. When I shifted my mindset to view the protests as an opportunity for the church to share its values to those who may be searching for truth, my defensiveness subsided. Though I still believe the protesters were wrong and petty, I no longer focus on them. I now focus on the missionary opportunities within the community; opportunities only made possible by the protests and I don’t fret the small stuff. This is a very simple example of how I refocused my worldview and shifted my paradigm from the view of a problem to the view of an opportunity.

There is such thing as absolute truth. I wouldn’t be a member of the church if I didn’t believe that. But there are also patterns and paradigms of thinking that can be challenged. Even if our answer to a question is right, there may be another right answer, and it may be better than what we came up with originally. When we are open minded to the thoughts and ideas of others, and try to view the world through the lenses with which they are viewing the world, we do not discard our values and beliefs but rather strengthen those that are correct, and view critically others which may be based falsely on our environment or limited experience.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An Example of Humility and Forgiveness

During the difficult Missouri period of 1838, many saints fell away from the church. Some left of their own accord and many others, men who had been stalwarts in the faith, were excommunicated for their wickedness and apostasy. Among the spiritual casualties of this time was William W. Phelps, one of the Presidents of the Church in Zion, church printer, and close friend to the prophet Joseph Smith.

W.W. Phelps was accused of using church money for his own personal purposes and was excommunicated in March of 1838. After his excommunication Phelps appeared in a hearing before Judge Austin King at Richmond in late 1838 and testified falsely of Joseph Smith’s advocacy in resisting all law and of his involvement in engineering the burning and plundering of the towns of Gallatin and Millport. Phelps testimony, combined with other dissenters bolstered the State’s case and led to the incarceration of Joseph Smith and other church leaders. As a true apostate, Phelps desired not only to be separated from the church, but also to destroy the church and its leaders.

After his separation from the Church, W.W. Phelps moved to Dayton Ohio. In 1840 Orson Hyde and John E. Page found Phelps impoverished but humble and urged him to write to the prophet for the purpose of regaining his fellowship with the saints. On June 29, 1840 Phelps wrote the following…

“I am as the prodigal son, though I never doubt or disbelieve the fullness of the gospel… I have seen the folly of my way, and I tremble at the gulf I have passed. I prayed and God answered, but what could I do? Says I, Oh, I will repent and live, and ask my old brethren to forgive me, and though they chasten me to death, yet I will die with them, for their God is my God… I want to be saved if my friends will help me… I have done wrong and I am sorry. I ask forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ of all the Saints, for I will do right, God helping me.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith responded with a letter dated July 22, 1840. In part his letter is as follows…

“Our hearts were melted into tenderness and compassion when we ascertained your resolves and I can assure you I feel a disposition to act on your case… and agreeably to the principles of truth and righteousness which have been revealed and inasmuch as long-suffering patience and mercy have ever characterized the dealings of our Heavenly Father towards the humble and penitent, I feel disposed to copy the example and cherish the same principles, by so doing be a Savior of my fellow men.

It is true that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior, the cup of gall already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us. Had it been an enemy we could have borne it. However, the cup has been drunk, the will of our Heavenly Father has been done and we are yet alive for which we thank the Lord.

Believing your confession to be real and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship and rejoice over the returning prodigal. Your letter was read to the Saints last Sunday and an expression of their feeling was taken, when it was unanimously resolved that W.W. Phelps should be received into fellowship.”

‘Come on dear Brother since the war is past,
For friends at first are friends again at last.’

Despite the personal betrayal, the pain, anguish and imprisonment Joseph suffered because of William W. Phelps, Joseph and the Saints welcomed back the prodigal son with ‘tenderness and compassion’. Among W.W. Phelps many accomplishments, he is perhaps best known as the composer of some of the most beloved Church Hymns we still sing today. These songs include Adam Ondi Ahman and one of my favorites, Praise to the Man which was written after his return into Church fellowship. When considering the road he had traveled the words W.W. Phelps penned and put to music in Praise to the Man are even more beautiful and inspiring.

William W. Phelps traveled the hard road but ultimately delivers to our eyes a great example of humility and repentance. Joseph Smith on the other hand, as a prophet of God, sets an example for us all in offering honest, personal forgiveness to those who have wronged us, regardless of the heinousness of the offence. Hopefully we can be wise and learn from Phelps’ experience so we do not travel the same hard road, but also follow the example of the prophet and offer tender forgiveness and compassion to others in spiritual need.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A Perfect Brightness of Hope- Part 2

We are commanded to be charitable and kind, faithful and studious to the Word of God. We are to receive the oaths and covenants of the Gospel, live worthy of a temple recommend and be diligent in our service to God and our fellow man. We are commanded to be “perfect” even as the Lord is perfect. These commandments constitute a very tall order and it is impossible for any of us to accomplish it – on our own. We all fail, and as a result, at the time of our death, no matter who we are, or how good a life we think we have lived, we still must rely on the grace of Christ to save us. We all die as sinners, so we should expect to continue repenting after death, because in this life, repentance will never be complete.

Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ we are lifted and saved from utter and unavoidable destruction. We can hope for great blessings in eternity. We can confidently hope in being resurrected and we can hope with confidence in receiving eternal life as we exercise our hope unto faith in Christ. We have confidence in the Savior and our Father in Heaven because there is evidence that they can and will do the things They have promised. Faith in Christ and the hope that we will receive the promises He has made are the foundation of our faith in Him, and as President Uchtdorf has said, this hope is an “anchor to our souls”. Hope is a spiritual gift, which together with faith and charity, stabilize our lives.

We learn from the teachings of Joseph Smith, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard… He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men.”

Unless we can entirely understand the complexity of the grace and judgments of God, it is best not to pass judgment on others. If we are not passing judgment on others, how could we ever possibly say that someone’s eternal state is hopeless, or that because of their actions, or the actions of a loved one, their family cannot be eternal. If someone happens to be dragged into a desperate state of mind because he feels hopeless, it is our duty to bring the “Good News” of the gospel to that person and restore hope in the possibility of a grander future.

President Uchtdorf has said, “The adversary uses despair to bind hearts and minds in suffocating darkness. Despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be.”

This world has plenty of despair, confusion and fear. We should never add to this, but instead focus on the “beam of sunlight” piercing the darkness “with a brilliant dawn.” We should seek to have a “perfect brightness of hope” and we must build and inspire hope in others. With the Savior, there is no such thing as too much hope.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Perfect Brightnesss of Hope- Part 1

President Uchtdorf has taught “Hope.. is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion, and fear” (The Infinite Power of Hope)

When considering the promise of salvation made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and His just and merciful judgments, is it possible for a person to have too much hope for the attainable joys of eternal families and exaltation? Or is it possible to forfeit the opportunity of having an eternal family or benefit from the atonement’s saving power, with certain actions or failures? Does our death constitute the end of our chance to repent, eternally closing the door on all access to the fruits of the atonement? No.

The prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It is an opinion which is generally received, that the destiny of man is irretrievably fixed at his death, and that he is made either eternally happy, or eternally miserable; … however orthodox this principle may be, we shall find that it is at variance with the testimony of Holy Writ, for our Savior says, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men wherewith they shall blaspheme; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come, evidently showing that there are sins which may be forgiven in the world to come.” Repentance is essential for the personal progression of the true believer, both in this life and the next, until the ultimate exaltation is conferred by our Heavenly Father.

We are taught in the scriptures repeatedly that our mortal lives are a probationary state in which we are to prepare to meet God by keeping His commandments, yet we are also taught that we do not earn salvation, for it is only through the Grace of Christ that we may be saved. During our lives we are to come unto Christ, exercising our faith in Him by following His example, and repenting continually.

We know that those who have not received the gospel during their life will be judged according to the light and truth they had received and will not be accountable for the light and truth they had not received. These people will have the opportunity to be taught in the spirit prison and will exercise agency in deciding to accept or reject the gospel after receiving their ordinances vicariously. We also know that some in spirit prison are those who “sometimes were disobedient”. These are the individuals who received at least a portion of truth and knowledge but were disobedient to that truth. Will members of the church fall into this “disobedient” category? I suspect many will. So which sins, and under what circumstances can these sins be forgiven after this life? I have no idea, and neither do you, but it would be foolish for a person to go through life purposely breaking the commandments of God with the expectation that all could be repented of after this life. However, we cannot close the door of hope on the person who dies a sinner.

Think of Alma the Younger. He was living a wicked and rebellious life, damaging the testimonies and pulling many away from the church of God. According to our orthodox thinking, if he had died after being kicked in the head by a horse, prior to witnessing the angelic vision and his subsequent repentance, Alma would have been damned, and lost forever. However, fortunately for him, he was granted time to repent of his sins and he ultimately became a great spiritual leader. Does it stand to reason that the capricious timing of an individual’s death would determine the individual’s eternal standing with God? Would a rebellious young man be lost forever because he was unfortunate enough to die accidentally prior to taking the opportunity to repent and set his life right?

Joseph Smith said, “It is common for many of our orthodox preachers to suppose that if a man is not what they call converted, if he dies in that state he must remain eternally in hell without any hope. Infinite years in torment must he spend and never, never, never have an end; and yet this eternal misery is made frequently to rest upon the merest casualty [chance]”. There must be opportunities for repentance after death, or else why would the Savior have gone to teach the spirits in prison? Did he intend to leave them there? No. He went to deliver and set them free.
To be continued...