Friday, July 25, 2008

The Challenge of Discipleship--Developing Christlike Attributes

"Wisdom is the application of knowledge"--a thought that came to my mind as we drove home...

I gave my brother-in-law (who is living with us right now) a ride to institute this week. And since it's quite a drive I decided to stay and attend class with him. I'm so glad I did! The name of the class: "The Cost of Discipleship". The teacher was fabulous. I have had other opportunities to be trained by him a couple of times when I taught seminary. Every time I came away with special insights. We also have something else in common--we both love Neal A. Maxwell.

He shared several thoughts from Elder Maxwell's talk entitled: "In Him All Things Hold Together", a talk I highly recommend. I've since taken the time to read it in full.

Elder Maxwell was so unique in how he taught us about the development of Godly or Christlike attributes being tied to our discipleship. Discipleship was the theme of his life and the legacy of his ministry. He also used to talk of "misery prevention", which has two parts:
1. Active avoidance of evil
2. Active engagement in righteousness

In a life-style of repentance, it's not enough to simply get rid of something bad. We must substitute something good to take its place. Here's where the "becometh a saint" part comes in--along with getting rid of the natural man, in Mosiah 3:19.

"Too often when we seek to excuse ourselves, it is, ironically, 'the natural man' we are excusing. Yet scriptures inform us 'the natural man' is to be 'put off'. He certainly should not be 'kept on' because of a mistaken sense that the natural man constitutes our individuality." ("In Him All Things Hold Together")

Three key scriptures that list a chain of significant Godly attributes are:
Mosiah 3:19
Alma 7:23-24
Alma 13:27-29

The question that the institute teacher posed was: "Is the development of Godly/Christlike attributes optional?"

With an abundance of such scriptures, one need not think too long before answering that question. After all, there's no way around the command: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). The footnotes include the Greek meaning of "perfect" as "complete, finished, fully developed".

Obviously we can't keep this commandment perfectly right now, but we can try. I know I could definitely apply a little bit more "elbow grease" in the effort. It doesn't have to be daunting if we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit and use the Atonement of Christ (as we're supposed to) to enable us to become more Christlike. I'm all about baby steps. But whatever our current state of discipleship, it's clear that possessing these cardinal qualities are not optional. And I did learn some compelling reasons as to why we ought to start now.

The prophet Joseph Smith said, "If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God, or possess the principles which God possesses, for if we are not drawing towards God in principle, we are going from Him and drawing towards the devil." ("Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith," p. 216)

Clearly, the challenge of discipleship is the development of these Godly/Christlike attributes. (See, for example, "The Challenge To Become", another one of my favorite talks.)

When we read of God's attributes we read of humility, diligence, kindness, being full of love and being easy to be entreated, compassion, holiness, patience, temperance, knowledge, faith, virtue, honesty, meekness, submissiveness, obedience, mercy, long-suffering, and doing good continually.

Naturally, it would be important to learn what these attributes actually are. But we can also learn a lot about what these attributes are by learning what they aren't.

For example, when I think of words that are opposites of "diligence", I think of "slothful", "procrastination", and "unreliable". Then I start to recognize areas in need of more diligence--home teaching, scripture study, and temple attendance.

Opposites of "submissive" are: "resistant", "prideful", and "stubborn". I suppose I need to evaluate how submissive, or perhaps resistant, I sometimes am when attending various meetings or valuing certain standards/rules. Elder Maxwell specifically mentions not being "resistant to the Spirit, to counsel, or to life's lessons" in being submissive to God.

One attribute I often read in the scriptures but seldom give much thought to is "temperance". Elder Maxwell said that temperance means to be self-restrained, not being egoistic, not too eager for attention or recognition, and not being too talkative. I think for me it also means getting enough sleep so as not to be irritable. I'm amazed at how all these attributes are so tied together, and how God is perfectly all of those things.

We think of becoming like God as a destination--as the ultimate goal. And it is that, but the development of these attributes are also significant mile markers on the journey back.

So why ought we to work on these attributes now rather than wait if we have eternity to become perfect?
1. Attributes help us reach balance in life
2. They help us stay on the path
3. They make life's experiences (and the experiences God gives us) meaningful.

The Prophet Joseph taught: "The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments..." Certainly we gain more of a "fullness of joy" as we become those things. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave a conference talk in which he called Christlike attributes "the wind beneath our wings".

One last Elder Maxwell quote: "The Lord loves each of us too much to merely let us go on being what we now are, for he knows what we have the possibility to become! It is all part of the journey of going home. Developmentally, we are all prodigals. When we really "come to" ourselves, spiritually, we, too, will say with determination, "I will arise and go to my father" (Luke 15:18).

"This true celebration of the risen one of emulation as well as of adoration for him. Since he is risen from the grave, let us not be dead as to the things of the Spirit! How can we celebrate the empty tomb with empty lives? How can we celebrate his victory over death by being defeated by the world?"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Mormon Maverick in the Texas Hill Country--Elder Lyman Wight

A couple weeks ago my family decided to go camping in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Based on past experience with stereotypes, I'd say most people have no idea that Texas has so much geographic variety and diversity. Here are a couple of pictures we took from the side of the road as we were driving through the Hill Country northwest of San Antonio:

On our drive we came to a really neat little town named Bandera. As we approached I saw a historical marker off to the side of the road, and being the "history buff" that I am, I decided to stop. I was surprised when I recognized the name of Lyman Wight. I had only been somewhat familiar with him and I knew he had some influence in the early history of the Church and then later in breaking off and establishing some settlements in Texas. This historical marker isn't far from the beautiful park we stopped at along the Medina River.

We had a wonderful time camping as a family and seeing some beautiful country. And I decided that I wanted to learn more about Lyman Wight and do a little homework when I got back. I began my little quest to learn more about his role, as well as early Mormon influence, in my new home state. Boy did I find a story.

Lyman Wight was an early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with Sidney Rigdon and others in the Kirtland area. He had actually fought as a 17-year old in the War of 1812. He participated in Zion's Camp, and was extremely loyal to the prophet Joseph Smith. He was called to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles caused by the death of Elder David W. Patten. Before Joseph was killed, there were plans made about possibly taking the Saints to Texas. Lyman Wight was the guy who was going to do this. But after Joseph was killed the rest of the Brethren decided not to go to Texas, but instead head out to the Rocky Mountains. Lyman had a recalcitrant attitude toward Brigham Young. The same loyalty Wight had for Joseph Smith didn't ever transfer over to Brigham Young, as head of the Twelve Apostles. In March of 1845, and against the Twelve's advice, Lyman headed off to Texas anyway with a group of about 21 families (some polygamist) who would come to be known as the Wightites. Here they would try to practice their own version of their Mormon beliefs.

Over the next decade this group would make their own unique contributions to Texas history and settlement in various locations. One of the last was in Bandera county, which they came to in March of 1854. The entire group, numbering between 200 and 250 people, eventually settled a few miles below the town of Bandera at a place called "Mountain Valley", and which is now covered by Medina Lake. For a time they manufactured tables, chairs, and other furnishings, which they sold in San Antonio. But for various reasons, the colony began to have setbacks, and eventually it was decided to head back to Independence, Missouri and join up with the rest of the breakaway Mormon groups. Wight died the day after they set out on the trip, and was buried about four miles outside of Fredericksburg at the site of a settlement they called "Zodiac" which they had built along the Pedernales river, and which no longer exits.

Early on Brigham Young sent representatives to persuade Lyman to come to Salt Lake City. But, they reported, he told them that "nobody under the light of heavens except Joseph Smith or [Patriarch] John Smith, the president of the Fifty, could call him from Texas to Salt Lake City, and that he had as much authority to call one of the Twelve, or rather Eleven, to Texas, as they had to call him to Salt Lake City." But more than this seeming insubordination, it was probably the publishing of a pamphlet in open opposition to Brigham Young and the Utah Church that led to the decision in December 1848 in which Lyman was disfellowshipped and later excommunicated.

I always like to find some personal application in the lives of others. My enduring question is, "What can we learn from Lyman Wight?" I like LDS historian David Bitton's summation, enough to quote it at length, from The Ram and the Lion: Lyman Wight and Brigham Young. (Parenthetically, Bitton once taught at the University of Texas at Austin):

Most basic is the narrow understanding of obedience in the parlance of Wight. He took second place to no one in putting his life on the line, in responding to the different calls placed on him. But his obedience was to his prophet, Joseph Smith. He never saw his position in the Twelve as requiring the same obedience to Brigham Young. Others made the transfer rather easily, seeing obedience to Smith and then Young as quite compatible and unidirectional. After the martyrdom, they came to see Young as the heir, deserving of the same kind of allegiance earlier granted to Joseph Smith. But Lyman Wight, his own man now that the Prophet was dead, did not intend to be clay in the hand of any potter named Brigham Young. From the beginning Mormon missionaries had chastised those who readily accepted dead prophets (the Bible) but showed no willingness to listen to a living prophet (Joseph Smith). Ironically, in a way he would not have recognized, Wight was facing the same challenge.

I do not wish to claim that Brigham Young handled everything perfectly. What if he had responded with even greater magnanimity? A letter to Wight might have been worded something like this: "Dear fellow apostle. We follow with great interest your company and your colony. Any success you have we know has the sanction of our beloved brother Joseph. As you know, he instructed us to move to the Rocky Mountains. Your brethren of the Twelve are all with us. We should work in concert. We know you will rejoice in our successes, as we rejoice in yours. Keep us informed. Perhaps we can be of assistance. We remember the old days as we preached the gospel and faced the bullets in Missouri. Let us carry on the work."

Or, when it became obvious that Wight, not realizing that he had been dropped, attached supreme importance to the Council of Fifty, one might imagine an addendum: "We are enclosing a brief letter from Uncle John Smith, president of the Fifty." Such a letter might well have instructed Wight to continue his efforts, to report on his activities to the church leadership in Salt Lake City, and perhaps, with the failures in Texas, to come to Utah.

But on the whole Brigham Young deserves high marks. Of course he was irritated at Wight's insistence on leading his colony to Texas, especially after sending a forthright appeal through Samuel Bent in 1845. But through the difficult years of 1845, 1846, 1847, and most of 1848 Young had patiently waited. He gave Wight the benefit of the doubt. Not knowing what was in Lyman's mind, Young sought information through messengers, allowing Lyman full opportunity to express goodwill or loyalty. No such expression was forthcoming. Only when Lyman threw down the gauntlet by publishing his pamphlet, did Brigham take decisive action.

Even then efforts to win Lyman Wight back did not cease. He must have had visits from different Mormon missionaries and letters from his nephews in Utah. In 1855, he received and responded to a long letter from Sanford Porter. In 1857–58 he exchanged letters with Wilford Woodruff. Before he had received Woodruff's second letter, he died.

If Brigham Young's patience can be attributed to the advice of those close to him, he deserves credit for listening to them. It was especially Heber C. Kimball, Young's close friend and counselor, who defended Wight as "noble hearted" and counseled patience. We do not have all the comments made about Lyman Wight, but thanks to the faithfulness of Wilford Woodruff in keeping a detailed journal we can eavesdrop on one conversation held in 1859. Wight had died the previous year, but the word may or may not have yet reached Utah. In any case, here is what Heber C. Kimball said: "I always believed Lyman Wight would be saved. I never had any but good feelings about him."

The parallel lives of Lyman Wight and Brigham Young are instructive in many ways. That their respective authority claims were ultimately incompatible seems clear enough, but just how early Wight locked himself into immovable opposition is more questionable. Some would define the problem as largely one of communication. Others would emphasize the personalities—the two strong egos that could not play on the same stage. I see tragedy in the blasted hopes of the "wild ram". I also see a profound truth in Young's succinct warning: "All that want to draw away a party from the church after them, let them do it if they can, but they will not prosper."

If you're interested in learning more, here are some good resources:

My Private Texas and Lyman Wight's
by LDS historian Davis Bitton

The Ram and the Lion: Lyman Wight and Brigham Young, also by David Bitton

Lyman Wight: Wild Ram of the Mountains, from "Saints Without Halos"

Lyman Wight (Wikipedia)

Lyman Wight, General Authority

"Lyman Wight and the Mormons on the Texas Frontier", a scholarly and respectful blog post by a Catholic I do not know.

Dreamers and Schemers: Lyman Wight's Mormon Colony in Texas

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Devil Made Me Post It

Fantastic article in the Mormon Times yesterday entitled "The Devil Made Me Post It". A very clever way, a la "The Srewtape Letters", to get a most important point across.

One quote: "We want the opposite of what Robert L. Millet, another BYU professor, would call a good post on the Internet: "A positive expression of what I believe and what I feel strongly about and invite others to ask me questions and then respond as kindly and as generously and as openly as I can -- recognizing there are things about which we disagree. And that's OK; that's OK if we disagree. We don't have all the answers and no one does."

Millet's ideas are dangerous. He actually has said, "We live in a world that begs for people to better understand one another and that just isn't accomplished by contention and confrontation." He even sees the possibility that people can get to know each other: "There is so much need to better understand one another and to get to know people better. It is very difficult to demonize someone you know well. It is very difficult to marginalize someone who is your friend." As if there is something wrong with demonizing someone! Ha!"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Discipleship: The Ride of a Lifetime

Jesus summarized the greatest commandment in this simple statement: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt alove thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:37-39)

The question that has been ruminating in the back of my mind recently is this: What is my "all"? And how do I know if I'm truly giving my all?

Lest anyone misunderstand that Latter-day Saints believe in a "works based salvation"--I've already blogged about that and how we know that it is Christ's merits, mercy, and grace that we rely on--not our own--for our salvation. So I'm not questioning how much my "all" is in order to merit the gift of salvation (because we can't). I'm questioning what my "all" is so that I can better love and serve and follow Christ.

Borrowing from Brother Robinson's "Parable of the Bicycle", no matter how much we bring to the table, whether a dollar, sixty-one cents, or a penny--our own efforts fall far short of the perfection required to enter the kingdom. That's why we ought to be so deeply grateful that because of our baptismal covenant we're judged as one with Christ, and not on our own merits. That's quite a partnership!

But knowing that doesn't mean that we can kick up our heels and treat this life like one long vacation. He still expects our heart--ALL of it--loving God and each other. He demands the best we got--our whole soul, might, mind, and strength. We can't hold anything back. We must give every single cent we have to Him. That's the catch. We actually have to give our ALL---our whole 100%. I suppose learning to do that is the lifetime lesson of discipleship.

"There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that he still requires our best effort. We must try, we must work--we must do all that we can. But the good news is that having done all we can, it is enough--for now. Together we'll make progress in the eternities, and eventually we will become perfect--but in the meantime, we are perfect only in a partnership, in a covenant relationship with him. Only by tapping his perfection can we hope to qualify." (from "Believing Christ: A Practical Approach to the Atonement"

If I only have 25 cents to offer, that's fine, but I can't be content to hold back and only give him part. If you happen to have a whole dollar, that's great, but you still have to give 100% of it--not half, but ALL of it, without keeping the change and without asking for a receipt. This is a total effort.

The struggle for me is knowing what my personal ALL is. I don't worry about anybody else, because nobody can rightfully judge what another persons' "all" is. (See the parable of the divers in Robinson's book "Following Christ").

I feel very confident in Christ's ability. I'm less confident in knowing or using my ability and talents to give my own personal 100%. How do I know what all I have to give? What is my personal ALL? What actually constitutes "all that we can do" ? (2nd Nephi 25:23).

If we give our all and we give our best to God, how is that reflected in how we give our best to others?--in our families or in our callings?

One thing is certain: We serve God by serving others. "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God" (Mosiah 2:17). We love Him best by loving others back--the way He loves us.

Another thing is certain: I don't always do this. And therefore, ongoing repentance ought to be a way of life for me. Repentance--turning our wills over to God--must be an ongoing process of conversion and discipleship.

The hymn "There Is a Green Hill Far Away" has a line in it that says: "Dearly, dearly has he loved! And we must love him too, And trust in his redeeming blood, And try his works to do".

I actually don't have a problem with trusting in his redeeming blood, or believing Him. I feel confident in Christ and I rejoice in Him. My problem is wondering whether I'm really trying sufficiently to do his works, or repenting when I don't, rather than being indifferent. I want to be doing my best to follow him by walking the walk and not just talking the talk. I certainly try and trust, but I wonder whether I am really doing so with "all" that is in me.

I don't worry so much about what I can't do; I worry about doing all I actually CAN do. I know I can give more than I'm presently giving. I know I can be more than I currently am. In other words, I'm not worried about the "being saved" from death and hell aspect of Christ's grace, because I trust in Jesus. I'm worried about the exaltation aspect of grace because I feel like I have a lot to offer/give and I'm not quite sure if I am truly expending my "own best efforts" (Bible Dictionary, p. 697).

Sometimes it might seem like He requires a lot by requiring ALL of our heart, soul, and mind without being able to ease up or hold back. But then I only need to think of the alternative and that thought goes away quickly. In fact, thinking of the price He paid makes me want to give more.

I must never forget the price that was paid. I must never forget how I've wept out of gratitude for His great love, especially as I read His most compassionate command and plea born out of Gethsemane and the cross: "Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest..your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:15-19)

Repentance is one of the most merciful aspects of the gospel. Repentance can sometimes be a painful process. It can also be a very joyful process. Sometimes repentance requires a lot of work, perhaps involving service that never seems to be convenient. Maybe some discomfort on our part is a good thing. This quote by C. S. Lewis from "Mere Christianity", makes me think a little bit differently about repentance as an ongoing lifestyle involving some internal reconstruction, recommitting to God, and turning our hearts and wills to Him:

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

Talk about a "conversion process"! When I was a kid my dad and I would sometimes go look at new cars and vans. My favorite were the "conversion vans" that had really been made into something luxurious. As I climbed in I'd get excited about thinking that this could be ours. Sometimes they had added a lot more than I could have imagined a van could have. Our conversion to Christ might well be thought of in a very similar way.

I suppose this goes more along with the enabling power of the Atonement as well as the redeeming power of the Atonement.

All I know is that I must be fully committed to the "ride of a lifetime" we call discipleship, including learning to give ALL I have and am.

"What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him -
Give my heart."

-words, Christina G. Rossetti

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mormons Are Non-Traditional Christians (and other interfaith dialogue)

I really can't get enough of LDS-Evangelical dialogue. I've learned so much through the process--it's like "a whole new world...I never knew". (My daughter and I just finished watching "Aladdin" and the song is stuck in my head!) :)

I'm all for increased dialogue. It's a win-win, if only both sides are committed to the process of mutual understanding instead of perpetuating "more of the same" closed minded dismissals. I applaud the efforts of those who are interested in more effectively communicating with those of different faiths. See, for example, "Summa Theologica", which does an amazing job at promoting mutual understanding.

Great links were brought to my attention today here, including an article in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled "Mormon-Evangelical dialogue could clarify misperceptions of doctrine" and an article posted on Beliefnet by one of the leaders in LDS-Evangelical dialogue, Richard Mouw. Mouw serves as president of the respected Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

Here are three links to some "must reads" both for Latter-day Saints AND Evangelicals:

A New Opportunity for Mormonism?--Richard Mouw's advice to Mormons. One quote: "As an evangelical who has publicly called for a friendlier dialogue with Mormons, I know something about a deep anti-Mormon bias in American life."

We Have Sinned Against You--Richard Mouw
I'd heard of this talk in the news right after it was given but I'd never actually read it until now. I'm so glad I did. One quote: "We evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe."

"Let’s Call Mormons ‘Nontraditional Christians’"
Finally a "Christian" title both sides can live with! Mormons will gladly accept "Non-traditional Christians". A wonderful essay by LDS author Orson Scott Card on Beliefnet's Blogalogue debate about "Are Mormons Christians?" This one's a must read. One quote: "Instead of saying that we are “not Christian,” which is an obvious falsehood by any rational, widely accepted definition of the word Christian, let us agree that Mormons are “nontraditional Christians.” We’ll live with that label quite happily, because it’s true. We are Christians, but nontraditional ones. And if we ever become traditional, we’ll have no reason to exist as a separate religion!"

I'm encouraged by the progress being made in this area of inter-faith understanding and dialogue. I'm inspired by it, whereas many who have had bad experiences in times past have given up and are now missing out on some awesome opportunities.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday America!

I feel extremely blessed to live in the United States of America. I know there are troubles all about us. They shouldn't be ignored. But there is also so much that is so right about America. That shouldn't be forgotten.